PORTLAND, Ore. • When Cody Ellis arrived in St. Louis from Australia in January, he had a lot to learn in a hurry to get into the swing of the SLU basketball team's style of play. The teammate who taught Ellis the most was also the one who had the most to lose.
That would be SLU forward Brian Conklin.
"He was one of the most important," Ellis said. "He was like a big brother to me. He'd sit me down and walk me through all the plays. I'd be on court and he'd be on the sideline, telling me where to go, directing me, helping me out. Which, I think, is really good, because I came in and took minutes away from Brian. It was awesome for me to have someone like that."
Conklin's minutes may be down, and his on-court contributions may not be what they once were when he was a regular in the starting lineup his first 1½ seasons on campus, but the 6-6 junior from Eugene, Ore., continues to make his mark on the team. Conklin gets to play close to his home when SLU leaves Chaifetz Arena for the first time and plays the University of Portland at 9 tonight (St. Louis time).
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Of late, it's been tough for Conklin to get much playing time, especially when SLU plays guard-heavy teams. When it comes to minutes on the court, basketball is a zero-sum game. There are 200 minutes of playing time in any one game, and each minute one player gets is a minute someone else isn't. Conklin, one of the Atlantic 10's top offensive rebounders, started 16 of SLU's first 17 games last season. Before Ellis' arrival, he routinely played 20 or more minutes a game, and sometimes more than 30. After Ellis arrived, Conklin, who also began to struggle with a recurring ankle injury, played less as Ellis, whose 3-point shot became one of SLU's major offensive threats, played more.
For Conklin, there was never a thought of doing anything but help Ellis as much as he could.
"You get the minutes you deserve," he said. "You play your role. You want to be on a winning team, and that's the bottom line. If you play 8 minutes and someone plays 20 minutes and you can help them in their 20 minutes on the floor make your team win, why not? They're your teammate, why wouldn't you let them in on the same stuff you know?
"It's the same with Rob (Loe) this year. I'm teaching Rob the different nuances of how to use his body to get a rebound, different stuff like that. Why wouldn't you tell your own teammate? It's your own family, why would you withhold something from your family?"
Conklin said that lesson was reinforced for him at North Eugene High, where he came in as a freshman and took minutes away from an older player, Andrew Hookland, who taught him how to be a better high school player. Hookland is expected to be among those making a special trip to Portland to cheer on Conklin tonight.
Eugene is two hours south of Portland on Interstate 5, but SLU (3-2) couldn't get the University of Oregon on the schedule and got Portland (5-2) instead for Conklin to have a chance to play in front of his family and friends, about 30 of whom are expected to be on hand tonight. Still, the city of Portland and UP's Chiles Center were significant parts of Conklin's basketball development.
"AAU ball was always out of Portland," Conklin said. "All the worthwhile traveling teams were up there to play for. Two or three times a week I'd drive up to Portland for practice. … I was recruited by them and took a visit to the campus. I played in an All-Star game there, played in open gym there. I know the arena."
And he knows how to make a team better.