UpNext: Tyler Ennis, Syracuse’s quiet superstar

In his freshman year with the Orange, Ennis is averaging 12.3 points, 5.4 assists and 2.5 steals a game and shooting 40 percent from behind the arc (Photo: Nick Lisi/AP)

UpNext brings you the best up-and-coming Canadian basketball talent. In this week’s instalment, Syracuse Orange point man Tyler Ennis.

Tyler Ennis is the best freshman point guard in the NCAA.

With every game the undefeated Syracuse Orange play, that statement is becoming less of an opinion and more of a fact. Playing big minutes (34.1) for a 20-0 team and managing a dizzying 3.9-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, Ennis has college basketball observers in near-universal agreement that he belongs in the exclusive club previously known as the ‘Freshman Four’ (alongside Julius Randle, Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Aaron Gordon).

But if you think the Brampton, Ont., native cares about the much-deserved attention you would be wrong. Flying under the radar has become part of Ennis’s mental makeup.

About a year ago, 25 high school players were named to the two rosters for the 2013 McDonald’s All American Game—America’s marquee high school all-star event, boasting alumni that include Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and LeBron James.

Tyler Ennis was not on that list.

His response? A 53-point performance for St. Benedict’s Prep just an hour after his coach, Mark Taylor, found out about the snub.

The 53 points set a New Jersey state record, but that’s not the best part of the story.

Before the game, Ennis’s team decided that it would be his night to send a message. They encouraged him to look for his own shot guilt-free—and the resulting offensive barrage offered a critique of the McDonald’s All American selection process Ennis himself would never have dreamed up.

Ennis is an old-school pass-first point guard, who is more than happy to set his teammates up for glory and see them enjoy the accolades that come with it.

Ennis is not that guy. He’s private and focused. Since Christmas, despite his rapidly rising fame, you can count the number of tweets he’s posted on one hand.

Ennis’s subdued personality runs in stark contrast to the loud, brash, in-your-face guards the Orange have showcased over the last 10 years. (I remember watching former point guard and current Syracuse assistant Gerry McNamara getting under his opponents skin with his energetic—and sometimes over-the-top—celebrations). And yet, when it came to choosing an NCAA landing spot, Ennis went with his gut. Syracuse had always been his dream school, and even when it looked like Michael Carter-Williams might stay on and run the point for another year rather than declare for the NBA draft, Ennis never wavered.

This past summer, in the few weeks that he was able to spend at home in Brampton, Ennis carried a typically quiet confidence about his upcoming freshman season.

He spent the rest of his summer dividing his time between an already busy Syracuse workout schedule and a commitment to the 2013 Canadian men’s junior national team.

The dominant storylines that came out of last summer’s junior national camp focused more on who wasn’t playing than who was, but Ennis—a lock for the starting point guard spot—is a proud Canadian, who has stepped up to represent his country every time he has been called upon. (A few years ago he went out of his way to fly back to Toronto for a senior men’s camp that was put together after Jay Triano and Steve Nash returned to the national program. He was the only high school player in attendance.)

His national team coach, Roy Rana, understood both the sacrifice Ennis made for his country in the months leading up to his first season in the NCAA and the importance of having a point guard of his calibre running the team.

There can be no doubt that Ennis is special. But why?

Is it the fact that he had two older brothers to toughen him up on the court when he was just a kid? Maybe the answer lies with his father, Tony McIntyre, who coached Ennis’s AAU team—CIA Bounce—and made sure his boys had gym time whenever they wanted. It could be his mother, Suzette Ennis-McIntyre, who wheeled an infant Tyler into a gym in his stroller and never misses a game, or the responsibility Ennis feels to his three younger siblings, who look to him as a role model.

The answer incorporates a bit of it all, and you can see different aspects of his family’s influence in his style of play today.

After a tough and-one, there is no played up reaction for the national TV cameras, Ennis’s brothers wouldn’t have allowed it during their pick-up games.

When Ennis hit a shooting slump early in the season, he broke out of it by putting in gym time, just like he did in the summers with his father.

With the game on the line and the ball in Tyler’s hands, his teammates know he will always make the right play, only keeping it himself by necessity. It’s a selflessness that mirrors his mother’s dedication.

But don’t get fooled by Syracuse’s famous 2-3 zone or Ennis’s pass-first instincts. Whether his younger siblings are watching or not, this kid can set an example and score at will—and, most importantly, when his team needs him the most. As college basketball analyst Seth Greenberg recently pointed out, in the final five minutes of a game, Ennis is shooting nearly 50 percent from the field and has yet to commit a turnover.

His athleticism is also severely underrated.

While Canada’s mainstream media (rightfully) lost its collective mind over Andrew Wiggins, Ennis had no problem taking a back seat to his former AAU teammate. He just went about his business, quietly, knowing full well that when the NCAA season began, he would outperform the point guards selected above him for that McDonald’s game.

Because as his parents taught him: Ennis’s time would come.

And that time just might be now.

For news and updates on future editions of UpNext follow @upnext_JayT. And don’t forget to show some love by following @tdot_ennis—even if he doesn’t tweet much.

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