Perhaps it was in the bag, or bags, if you will, that all along during A.J. Elliott's recruiting trail, it would end where it started.
It was while throwing his two bags during a game of cornhole, of all things, that Elliott suddenly and spontaneously spoke of his desire to continue his basketball career at Mid-America Nazarene (Kansas).
"There was nothing that really prompted me to say that," Elliott said. "My Dad and I were not even talking about basketball when I told him, ‘I think I know where I want to go to college.’ We were playing cornhole when it randomly popped in my head. I decided my heart was telling me MNU. I told (Pioneers coach Rocky Lamar) about 20 minutes later.
"I had narrowed it down to MNU and Culver-Stockton," he added. "But I kind of knew where I wanted to go."
Ellliot's interest in Mid-America Nazarene was triggered by the Pioneers' interest in him. Despite earning All-COC First-Team honors as a junior, the 6-foot-5 Ozark center had not exchanged any recruiting dialogue with a college coach until the Pioneers approached him.
"They were the first team to talk to me," he said. "They talked to me at the beginning of my senior year. So, I liked them right off the bat."
Mid-America Nazarene has made a habit of qualifying for the NAIA National Tournament and enjoyed epic success while the NAIA D-II National Tournament was held at College of the Ozarks. The Pioneers made the Final Four seven times and claimed a national championship in 2007.
Lamar has been at the helm at Mid-America Nazarene since 1986.
"Coach Lamar is a Hall of Fame coach. I love coach Lamar," Elliott said. "I haven’t got to talk to him a whole lot in person. But he calls all of us once a week. He obviously knows what he’s doing. He gets you to play your best and that’s usually good enough to get to the national tournament. I can’t wait to play for him."
Elliott averaged a double-double as a senior, with his nightly norms being 15.6 points and 10.5 rebounds a game. He reached the 1,000-point career milestone while helping Ozark win the Class 5 District 10 championship and was named All-COC First-Team again.
He has been told he projects as a power forward at the college level.
"(Mid-America Nazarene) just lost an All-American center, but they like to run all five players in motion," Elliott said. "There are some similarities to what we did at Ozark, but some differences too. They run ball screens, which we never did at Ozark.
"They graduated both of their big guys," he added. "If I can fill out and put in the work, I’m hoping I can (play right away)."
Elliott's father, Aaron, played college ball at Southwest Baptist. But A.J. didn't seriously consider the Bearcats an option.
"A little bit. But I wasn’t going to chase after schools," Elliott said. "You never know about what playing time would be like. I knew if there was a place that fit, it would be a school that approached me."
Elliott feels so good about Mid-America Nazarene that his commitment to the Pioneers comes despite not making an official visit to their campus.
"I didn’t get to go on an official visit because of the coronavirus," he said. "When I saw them play a game at their gym, it was dark when I get there and snow was on the ground. So, I couldn’t really see everything. I haven’t really got to see the campus, but it seems nice. Olathe is an awesome place. Kansas City is right there, so you can go there whenever you want. It’s a great basketball area. Also, it’s not terribly far away from home. If I want to come home, I can."
Elliott is embarking on a challenging path. After job-shadowing Dr. Chad Efird at CoxHealth Orthopedics in Branson, he intends to major in biology, with aspirations to be an orthopedic surgeon.
"A few years ago, I decided I wanted to go into the medical field," Elliott said. "My Dad has always worked in hospitals and now mom does, too. I know it will be a workload playing basketball and majoring in pre-med. But that’s my goal."