First black basketball player at APSU dies at 79

First black basketball player APSU
First black basketball player APSU(APSU)
Published: Jun. 6, 2022 at 9:18 AM CDT
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CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) - Austin Peay State University officials confirmed the passing of L.M. Ellis Friday.

According to APU Athletics, Ellis was not only the first black basketball player to play at the university, but he was also the first black player in the Ohio Valley Conference. Officials said this broke the longstanding color barrier that existed at the conference.

As a trailblazer, the 6-5 forward averaged 9.3 points and 10.5 rebounds in 13 games during a shortened junior season after transferring from Drake to his hometown school.

As a senior, Ellis averaged 6.7 points and 6.1 rebounds per game to earn a tryout with the St. Louis Hawks, formerly known now as the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks. Under head coach Dave Whitney, he led Clarksville’s Burt Cobb High School to the 1961 district, regional, state, and National Negro High School championships during his prep career. That season Ellis was named team MVP by The Leaf-Chronicle newspaper.

After receiving his bachelor’s degree in the Spring of 1965, Ellis served in the managerial field of some of the nation’s top chain merchandising stores, including stops in St. Louis, Chicago, and Atlanta. In 1990, Ellis was inducted into the APSU Hall of Fame and, in February of 2022, had his number 45 jersey retired and hung in the rafters inside the Winfield Dunn Center.

“There are two moments I will always remember with Mr. Ellis. First, when I arrived in Clarksville in 2018, he encouraged me to be strong, be faithful, and told me that I could do it,” said Gerald Harrison, Vice President The second moment was when we retired his jersey in the winter. He stood up out of his wheelchair during the presentation to a thunderous crowd. I was in awe of his presence.”

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