Tyler Ennis joins frosh in-crowd

Syracuse guard proves he belongs in the elite freshmen conversation

Updated: January 15, 2014, 5:14 PM ET
By C.L. Brown | ESPN.com

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Syracuse point guard Tyler Ennis' ascension from arguably the best freshman floor general to one of the best freshmen period has been both by design and by accident.

He'd attend practices while his brother, Dylan, who is a redshirt sophomore at Villanova, played and his dad coached. Dylan Ennis is nearly three years older, which meant Tyler Ennis was more or less the team mascot.

Growing up in Brampton, Ontario, located right outside of Toronto, Tyler Ennis was focused on hoops at an early age. Initially, Ennis tagged along out of convenience to be around his dad, his brother and basketball. Ennis had his own uniform and he'd participate in warmups with the team, too.

Tony McIntyre, his father who also coached the team, said during one game they were up 30 points when an official half-jokingly made a suggestion, "Why don't you put the young guy in?"

"It started as an accident, then it became a convenience thing," McIntyre said. "… Then the next season it was like, he can play here."

He can play here.

[+] EnlargeTyler Ennis
Mark Konezny/USA TODAY SportsTyler Ennis has always showed he can play up to the level of competition.

That phrase has been uttered a lot throughout the career of Tyler Ennis: during all the times he played up in competition in AAU; to the time he became one of a few Canadians playing high school basketball in the States; to now becoming one of the best freshman point guards in Syracuse history.

Ennis has been so steady so far, scouts on the highest level have noted, he'll have a future in the league too. Possibly as soon as he wants one, but Ennis isn't obsessed with talking about making it in the NBA.

He avoids social media, so his focus won't be on the latest scuttlebutt of his draft projections.

"We're going to continue to try to win games as a team, the further we go as a team the more personal accolades we will get," Ennis said. "I don't think I would have gotten the amount of attention I have got if we had five or six losses."

Tasked with replacing Michael Carter-Williams for the Orange, Ennis has exceeded expectations -- maybe not of his own, but those of outsiders. Ennis has averaged 11.6 points and 5.6 assists in helping the Orange climb to No. 2 in the polls and maintain a 17-0 record.

Remarkably, Ennis didn't have a major transition period to running a college team, nor has he hit the proverbial freshman wall. His four turnovers against North Carolina represents the only time he's had more than two turnovers in a game.

"He had more turnovers in the first half than he's ever had," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. "But he figured it out."

He figured it out.

That phrase is why Ennis has developed in the way that he has going back to two-on-two games with his brothers. They'd wheel their goal to the edge of the curb and play basketball on the street, stopping only when cars came by.

Brandon Ennis, who played collegiately for the District of Columbia, is five years older than Tyler. But when he'd invite his best friend over, they needed a fourth player. Tyler Ennis was tall enough to match up with his brother Dylan, but wasn't quick or strong enough to get his shot off.

"Dylan would just pretty much beat him up most of the time," said Brandon, who added that games would sometimes end with Tyler kicking the ball down the street. "Tyler would get frustrated and he used to cry, but later on he started to fight back and gave Dylan a run for his money."

Tyler, who scored 20 points when the Orange beat Villanova and brother Dylan, attributed his toughness to playing in those street games. It also was where he first learned that he had to find ways to score.

That lesson was punctuated when he played up in age on Dylan's AAU teams, and Ennis said it has helped him on the collegiate level.

"I've gotten a lot more athletic; I've gotten a lot faster," Ennis said. "But playing against guys who are some of the best athletes in the world, you've got to find other ways than just jumping over guys and being fast. You've got to kind of combine athleticism and a mental aspect to be effective."

Ennis looks like a player who has it all figured out. He has mastered the art of knowing how to change speeds during the course of a dribble. It has allowed him to get to the rim against just about everybody. But he's just as content distributing to others.

During three games of the Maui Invitational, Ennis had a combined 18 assists and only two turnovers as the Orange captured the tournament title.

[+] EnlargeJim Boeheim, Tyler Ennis
AP Photo/Kevin RivoliJim Boeheim has had some good point guards at Syracuse. Tyler Ennis has already become one of his best.

"I've started four freshmen point guards since I've been the head coach at Syracuse," Boeheim said. "I'm as comfortable with [Ennis] as any of the point guards I've started. I've had some pretty good ones."

He's got another one.

They all recognize it, too. From Boeheim to assistant coach Gerry McNamara, who was a freshman point guard on the 2003 national championship team, to Ennis' teammates.

Senior forward C.J. Fair believes the Orange can make another Final Four run, and Ennis' ability to run the team is a major reason why.

"You don't really have to worry about Tyler; I don't think coach does, either," Fair said. "If he does make a mistake, he knows why there was a mistake and he'll learn from it."

He'll learn from it.

Like the two experiences that helped shape him the most for his current role with the Orange. Ennis left Brampton to play high school basketball in the United States for better competition and more exposure.

His first season, with St. Benedict's Prep in New Jersey as a sophomore, he played for former Duke standout Roshown McLeod and joined a team with a bunch of juniors and seniors who were already committed to schools.

Most of them -- having already secured scholarships -- weren't the most driven when it came to playing. Ennis didn't have any guarantees. He knew if he was to get any recognition, he had to make his team better.

"We ended up being one game over .500," Ennis said. "That helped me so much with my leadership and having to get guys who weren't motivated and motivate them."

Playing on Canada's under-19 national team last summer also helped Ennis learn about the preparation he'd need.

"We went through scouts [scouting reports] -- that was the first time I did it," Ennis said. "We were playing guys like Marcus Smart and Aaron Gordon, those guys every game and some other pros, like on Croatia and other teams. I was able to go up against the best in the world in my age group."

He's one of the best.

Kansas' Andrew Wiggins, a fellow Canadian and former AAU teammate of Ennis, Duke's Jabari Parker, Kentucky's Julius Randle and Arizona's Gordon have hogged the spotlight when it comes to standout freshmen this season. Ennis' name deserves to be in that conversation.

There's not much flash about him. In the open court, Ennis isn't going to be that guy who rises up for a posterizing dunk like the other four have done this season. But Ennis is the guy who will get them ball at just the right time in just the right spot in order to dunk.

"He's a special player," Fair said. "He's been exceeding a lot of expectations. He's amazing to watch because he's so crafty with the ball."

He's a special player. He's amazing to watch. He's Tyler Ennis.

C.L. Brown | email

College Basketball

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