EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. The anniversary of the dark day Wayne Ellington will never forget is rapidly approaching, a date that is always going to coincide with the early part of the NBA's regular season.
Few things can ease the pain, the heartache, the empty feeling that sometimes overcome Ellington, 27, any time he thinks about his father being gunned down on the streets of Philadelphia last November. But being merely a short trek up the turnpike from his loved ones now can aid in the healing process, and it's one of the reasons the 6-4, 200-pound small forward decided to sign with the Nets in July as a free agent, reuniting with coach Lionel Hollins.
"In terms of my personal life, it helps a lot," said Ellington, who hails from the Philadelphia suburb of Wynnewood, Pennsylvania, and played for the Lakers last season. "Just being comfortable and having that supporting cast around me, have my family and having love close by, that really helps me as well. I think it's going to help me not only on the court but in life. When you are feeling good in life, you are feeling good on the court as well. So that played a huge role."
Ellington and his father, Wayne Ellington Sr., used to communicate before most games, often texting. That all changed horribly last Nov. 9 when the chilling news was delivered to him after the Lakers' win over the Hornets: His father had been murdered.
According to Philadelphia police, Wayne Sr., 57, was found shot to death sitting in the driver's side of his car at an intersection in the northwest part of the city. He was taken to a hospital and pronounced dead three hours later. Carl White, then 34, of Philadelphia was arrested and charged with murder in December. The case is awaiting trial.
Ellington initially took a leave of absence from the Lakers to deal with the grief, spending 11 days with family and friends before rejoining the team.
To help cope with the tragedy, he went back to the gym. For him, the familiar bounce of the ball is a remedy unlike any other.
"I've always been the type of guy that basketball has been my escape," Ellington said. "So when things aren't going so well for me outside of basketball, I always lean on basketball. So that kind of actually helped me to really stay in the gym, keep my mind on this and don't let it wander in other places."
Yet there are times when he flashes back to the joyous occasions he had with his dad. Losing someone so special to him altered how he views things.
"Absolutely, absolutely," he said. "You look at life differently. You take things in perspective. Things that meant things to you before don't mean as much and aren't as important, and the little things that obviously in life that should mean more to you become more important to you. I think that's how you kind of look at it. You grow up as a man. I feel like I definitely took some steps in the right direction after things happened with my father."
Ellington posted career highs in starts, rebounds and assists per game last season with the Lakers -- his fifth team since being drafted 28th overall by the Timberwolves in 2009. With the Nets, his main task is to stretch the defense, using his career three-point percentage of 38.2 to give Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young room inside to operate.
Hollins already has a good idea of Ellington's strengths and weaknesses, thanks to their time together in Memphis in 2012-13.
"I know him, he knows me," Hollins said. "But he's still got to come out and produce. He's a good kid, he's a good person and he's a good teammate. He tries to fit in and he brings something that hopefully will be consistent for us during the year, and that's his shooting."
Lopez looks forward to Ellington's range freeing him up down low. Ellington's presence alone is going to force the defense to choose between guarding him tightly and doubling Lopez to keep the 7-footer from scoring inside.
"Absolutely, he spreads the floor so well," Lopez said. "He makes plays off the dribble. People have to respect his shot, so he can put the ball on the floor and get them in the air and make plays for us. So it's definitely going to give us a different great look out there."
Ellington welcomes this latest challenge, ready to attack it in the same way he carved out a niche under coach Roy Williams at North Carolina. That's when he truly developed into a shooter and created a reputation that landed him in the NBA.
He believes he has plenty left to prove and hopes to turn some heads this season in Brooklyn as he keeps his family close, pressing on the way his father would want.
"Definitely, I have a chip on my shoulder, man," he said. "I feel like I still haven't reached my full potential. Some guys pick it up faster than others. I'm only 27 years old. I'm in my seventh season. I feel like I'm just starting to enter the prime of my career. The game has slowed down for me a lot and I'm feeling so much more comfortable on the court than I did as a younger player. So I feel like right now, I'm headed to where I want to be at and showing what I'm capable of being."