Thursday morning marked the beginning of pre-draft workouts for Tyler Ennis. Kicking things off at home in Toronto was a pretty solid way to start. The 19-year-old one-and-done Syracuse point guard was pleased to take another step toward his dream of making it to the NBA in a gym he’s already familiar with.
It was just two years ago that Ennis was one of the youngest players participating in a Canada Basketball mini-camp that took place on the Toronto Raptors’ practice court, turning heads despite the fact he was heading into his senior year of high school.
“It felt like so long ago,” Ennis said. “To look back and see the people I was playing against and the position I’m in now, it’s a big jump for me. I feel like I’ve improved a lot and I’ve learned a lot along the way and I’ve had some fun along the way as well. I’ve pretty much enjoyed my time playing basketball for fun and I’m ready for the professional level now.”
Addressing the media who have watched him grow from precociously aware young player to one of the best in the NCAA this season was fun for Ennis.
“The whole process has been surreal,” Ennis said. “I don’t think it really hit me until the combine. Until I got there and you’re seeing all the NBA people and you have the paperwork. So I mean I think it kind of hit me a little bit late, but just going through process, I’m enjoying it right now.”
While the Raptors don’t expect Ennis to still be available when the 20th pick in the draft comes around — “I’d be surprised,” Toronto general manager Masai Ujiri said — bringing him in for a workout was a no-brainer for the team that has been watching him for years.
“Fantastic kid,” Ujiri said. “Very straightforward. I was just talking about it with coach Casey. He just met him. We interviewed him in Chicago. Super kid. Very professional. Carries himself the right way.
“This is one of those deals where we could go to Syracuse as many times [as we want], it being close to here, drive up. I was fortunate to go to a couple practices, a couple games. You see his demeanour. I think he’ll make a good professional.”
That demeanour is among the first things mentioned when discussing Ennis’ game. Unfailingly poised, pressure rolls off the 19 year-old’s back with ease. Over the course of the season with the Orange, he proved time and again he isn’t afraid of the moment and relishes in the opportunity to have the ball in his hands at the end of the game.
“I’ve grown a lot,” Ennis said of the past year. “I think maturity and leadership is something that I had to pick up on early. Being a freshman point guard on a team that is coming off a Final Four was really big. I had to lead older guys and I think that prepared me for this level. As a point guard you have to be able to lead people. You gotta be able to learn on the fly but also being able to get the respect of your teammates and being able to lead them.”
For those unfamiliar with his skill set, Ennis said he modelled his game after Jason Kidd.
“A point guard who’s pass-first, a leader, a winner, and also being able to score the ball when the team needs him to,” Ennis said. “Right now I’d [also] say Tony Parker. I think we’re similar body styles. I think we’re both able to control the game and take over a game when our team needs us to.”
Because Ennis has been a fixture at Canadian basketball events over the years, Rowan Barrett, assistant general manager of the senior men’s program, has watched him develop into the player he is today.
“First of all Tyler is great, in terms of, just, his mind,” Barrett said. “He’s a very even-keeled young man. A great individual as well. People love him off the court, which is great. I think in a day and age where so many athletes, it can be a “me” generation, he’s actually not that. He’s the anthesis of that. He’s focused all the time on the court on doing the things it takes for the team to be successful. He’s not about his individual accolades or his statistics or whatever. Watching that and getting to see that while he was on our national team or when he was playing in the clubs or even watching at Syracuse, continuing to do whatever the team needs to be successful, is a tremendous sign of maturation for an athlete who is so young.”
Shortly after his workout with the team, Ennis posted a photo to his Instagram account that showed him in the Raptors locker room, picking up a We The North T-shirt. While this is just the first stop for the Brampton native, it was easy to see he was happy to go back to where it all began to tip off his pre-draft campaign.
“It’s an honour,” Ennis said. “It’s a great opportunity. To grow up watching the team and then be able to come in and work out for them, especially under the circumstances — it being my first workout — it’s just an honour for me to be here.”
In a year where there will be more than a couple of Canadian players to be drafted, Ennis was asked about the possibility of a Canadian being selected by the Raptors organization. Like so many others, Ennis pointed to the fan support shown during the team’s recent postseason appearance as a reason why Toronto would be a welcomed destination for any draft hopeful.
“I think it would be a great opportunity,” he said. “I think anybody that is lucky enough to play in Toronto, and with the fan support that was shown in the playoffs and the great organization that the Raptors have, I think anybody that gets drafted here is lucky. But to have a Canadian, it would be great for the city. I think everybody would get behind him, and I think it would just be a great opportunity.”