Tyler Ennis is never mentioned in the same breath as fellow freshmen and projected lottery picks Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Julius Randle and Aaron Gordon — and probably with good reason.
But from where Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim sits, Ennis is as important to Syracuse as any of the freshmen are to their respective teams.
“Tyler Ennis is having as good a year as any [freshman] in terms of what he’s doing on the court,” Boeheim told SNY.tv.
Entering Sunday’s tilt against St. John’s at Madison Square Garden — his first-ever game at the arena — the 6-foot-2 Ennis is averaging 11.3 points, 4.9 assists and 3.2 rebounds as the starting point guard for the No. 2 team in the nation.
The former St. Benedict’s Prep star said he doesn’t hold any ill will towards the other freshmen — including his former AAU teammate Wiggins, the projected No. 1 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft.
Instead, he uses all the attention they are receiving as motivation for himself — and the unbeaten Orange (9-0).
“Those guys are really talented, they’re really good players,” Ennis, a native of Brampton, Ontario, told SNY.tv by phone Friday from Syracuse.
“But it’s kind of motivation. It’s not something that’s jealousy. I think those guys really deserve it. It just kind of makes me want to go out there and play harder and keep making my team win.”
Ennis came to St. Benedict’s in Newark in order to raise his profile with American colleges, and then opted to stay during a difficult transition period in the post-Dan Hurley Era between coaches Roshown McLeod and Mark Taylor.
His perseverance paid off and Ennis won the New Jersey Gatorade Player of the Year award as a junior.
As a senior last April, he led the Gray Bees to the brink of an ESPN national high school championship. Battling an injured shoulder, he hit a huge 3-pointer in the final seconds to give St. Benedict’s the lead on Montverde (FL) Academy, only to watch Montverde’s Jalyn Patterson hit a game-winning 3 of his own in the final seconds.
With Michael Carter-Williams having left Syracuse for the NBA last season, Ennis immediately became the Orange’s starting point guard as a freshman.
He said the team’s preseason trip to his native Canada — as well as being around veteran coaches like Gerry McNamara and Adrian Autry — helped him learn the ropes.
“I think it’s been smooth,” he said of the transition. “I got a couple warm-up games with the Canada trip. We were practicing a little bit early this year so I had some time to learn the ins and outs of the position and I have people around me that support me and teach me everything I need to know.”
Said Boeheim: “He plays like a veteran player. He’s very steady. He’s really stepped in and been really comfortable right from the beginning. I think he’s getting better.”
It doesn’t hurt that Ennis is surrounded by talent, including his backcourt mate Trevor Cooney, who is shooting 48 percent from 3 and averaging 15.3 points, and ACC Preseason Player of the Year C.J. Fair, averaging 17.8 points.
“It’s great,” Ennis said. “I get to play with a great, talented AAU team [CIA Bounce] and then I get to come here and it’s pretty much the same talent-wise so I have people around me that are talented. It makes it so much easier for me. It helps me out a lot.”
Sunday will mark a homecoming of sorts for Ennis and he expects to have a group of family and friends — including his father, CIA Bounce coach Tony McIntyre — in the stands at the Garden.
“I got a few family members coming from the New York City area but also a couple of my family are coming from Toronto, too,” Ennis said.
“Playing at the Garden will be a good experience. I watched a couple games there over the years but I never got a chance to actually play.”
As for the future, Ennis is currently projected as a first-round pick in 2015 by DraftExpress.com.
Boeheim agrees that his point probably isn’t a one-and-done talent like Wiggins, Parker, Randle and Gordon, but will eventually make a solid NBA point guard.
“He’s not a guy who is like a lottery pick,” Boeheim said.
“I think he needs time, needs to work on his game, needs to get stronger. I think he’ll be a good NBA player, but I think he’s one of those guys who will benefit greatly from being in college for a few years.”
***For SNY.tv.’s exclusive video documentary on Canadian point guard Tyler Ennis, click here.