Raptors 905’s Tyler Ennis ‘never doubted’ eventual return to hoops

(Courtesy Christian Bonin/NBAE)

MISSISSAUGA, Ont. — Tyler Ennis, taking a pass from fellow Canadian Duane Notice near the left wing of the Paramount Fine Foods Centre’s court late in the first quarter, gathered with both his feet firmly behind the three-point line, rose up, fired away with confidence and saw the oh-so-familiar sight of the ball falling effortlessly through the hoop.

Thirty-seven seconds later, Ennis unleashed another no-doubt triple, this time from the right corner. He’d called for the pass, knowing he was open and maybe because he was feeling it a little.

And just 30 seconds after that three-pointer, Ennis got into the lane for an easy layup.

In case you weren’t counting, that’s eight points in just a one-minute, seven-second span for the Brampton, Ont., native, in the Raptors 905’s 109-94 loss to the Grand Rapids Drive on Friday night.

More importantly, though, these were also the first points of any kind that Ennis had scored in an official regulation game in over a year. Certainly, a moment he won’t soon forget.

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On Oct. 21, 2018, Ennis suffered a gruesome ankle injury while playing for Fenerbahce in Turkey. An injury so horrific it not only ended his season after just eight games, it ultimately erased the two-year contract he’d signed with the club (they released him in July) and threatened to end his career.

But Ennis, still only 25 years old, wasn’t going to give up so easily.

What came afterward was a very deliberate rehabilitation program that saw Ennis take matters one step at a time and ultimately build toward his goal of getting back to basketball.

“Honestly, I never doubted,” Ennis said after Friday’s game. “I think the hardest part for me was once I was able to play again, realizing that everything else in my life was normal outside of playing and I wasn’t able to play, so I definitely wanted to get back out onto the court.”

All that hard work paid off. On Oct. 20, nearly a full calendar year after he saw his basketball career flash before his very eyes, Ennis signed and was immediately waived by the Toronto Raptors in a move designed to make him an affiliate player of Raptors 905.

Probably not exactly the place he wants to be, but he’ll certainly take it over where he’d been for the past year.

“There’s not one day here where I felt like I need to get called up or signed,” Ennis said.

“I’m just day-to-day getting better with the team and I think everything else will fall into place for me.”

Ennis finished Friday’s contest with 15 points on 6-of-18 shooting and looked equal parts spectacular — as that eight-point, first-quarter burst illustrated — and shaky, committing six turnovers.

“Tyler hasn’t played in about a year here and it’s gonna take some time,” 905 head coach Jama Mahlalela said. “I think we all have expectations of him to be great right away, and he’s gonna be great, but it just may take a few games for him to get a rhythm. …

“There were some moments of great flash and brilliance and some moments when you could tell he hadn’t played in a year.”

Dewan Hernandez, the Raptors’ lone pick in this past June’s draft — a second-rounder taken 59th overall — also had a stellar game for the 905 in the blowout loss, scoring a game-high 24 points on 9-for-15 shooting. He looked agile and explosive on rolls to the rim and even flexed some range in knocking down 2-of-4 three-point attempts in pick-and-pop situations.

Hernandez looks like he could be yet another promising success story for the 905 this season, and he’d probably do well to learn a few pointers from Ennis.

“He’s a leader on this team and he’s bringing that NBA experience to the table right away,” Mahlalela said of Ennis. “We saw it the first day. He comes early to everything and is such a great example for our new players, our rookie players. He’s there an hour before he’s supposed to be there every single time.”

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Ennis is a former first-round pick, taken 18th-overall by the Phoenix Suns in 2014 — and infamously was reportedly the player the Raptors wanted to take in that draft at No. 20 when they instead selected Bruno Caboclo.

Since getting drafted by the Suns, Ennis could never find his footing in the NBA, bouncing around to four different teams — the Suns, Milwaukee Bucks, Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers — in a four-season span before landing a chance with Fenerbahce.

Now he finds himself in the G League, a spot where most everyone is still chasing a basketball dream of some sort.

Given everything he went through, Ennis should fit in just fine.

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