Ellis adjusting to life after leaving Gophers women’s basketball team

Ryan Schuster

During almost every practice earlier this year, Jaime Ellis could be seen pedalling away fervently on an exercise bike and shouting words of encouragement to her teammates from the sidelines.
But for the past month, Ellis and the exercise bike have fallen silent, as she has been noticeably absent from team practices.
The senior guard left the Gophers women’s basketball team on Dec. 12, the day before Minnesota’s 88-52 win over Western Illinois. She decided not to return to the team for the remainder of the season because of stress fractures in both of her legs, ending her Gophers career.
“I made the decision based on what I thought was best for my own personal health,” Ellis said. “It was very frustrating, but I decided that my health was the most important thing.”
Ellis was a three-year starter who had been plagued by injuries throughout her collegiate playing days. The Lake Oswego, Ore. native played in 82 games for Minnesota, 54 of them starts. She led the team in assists her sophomore year.
This season she had a total of three points and three rebounds during limited action in three games.
Ellis, who is on pace to graduate in the summer, will not return to the team for a fifth year.
“I think the most important thing is that Jaime is doing what she needs to do,” Gophers coach Cheryl Littlejohn said. “I definitely miss her presence cheering and in practice, but I think the most important thing is for her to get healthy.”
For the last two years, the 21-year-old has had stress fractures in both her legs. The fractures never had enough time to heal during the season, causing them to swell.
The stress fractures were treated, but the swelling was not, causing Ellis to develop an uncommon ailment called compartment syndrome that results from an expanding of muscles during exercise.
Ellis had surgery last summer on her lower legs in an attempt to heal the stress fractures. The surgery didn’t help, though, and even seemed to make things worse. At certain points this year she lost feeling in both legs, causing her to finally give up basketball.
“I miss the team, I miss the competition, but it’s very hard to play at this level if you can’t walk, let alone run, without having excruciating pain in your legs,” Ellis said. “It’s been extremely painful and difficult to deal with over the past two seasons.”
Ellis will re-evaluate the status of her legs in March and see if she needs to have further surgeries to completely recover.
The constant injuries and the possible repercussions that could result from continuing to play with her ailments have forced both Ellis and her former coach to evaluate just how important basketball is in the big picture.
“It puts a lot of things in perspective,” Littlejohn said. “Your life doesn’t revolve around this basketball team, and I think that is the most important thing that I can tell Jaime.”
Ellis is a senior marketing major in the Carlson School of Management, but she is unsure of what type of job she will pursue after graduation. She plans to use her extra time winter and spring quarters to work on classwork and prepare for life after college and basketball.
It has not been easy, though.
“I see a lot of my former teammates all the time,” Ellis said. “It’s hard to watch them go off and go to practice and games because I’ve played basketball for 13 years of my life, and all of a sudden it comes to a sudden halt.”