Andy Edwards (@DLNAndyEdwards)
New Villanova guard Dylan Ennis’ multi-week stint with the Jamaican national team this summer couldn’t have gotten off to a better start.
After all, the first face he saw when he walked into his hotel room was that of an NBA legend. Well, not exactly, but the resemblance was uncanny. And for all the knowledge Patrick Ewing Jr. imparted to Ennis, he might as well have been his father.
“Just being with him every day, being in the locker room and the hotel room, he was able to teach me a lot of things that I wouldn’t have learned until I get out of college,” Ennis said of the former Georgetown standout and 2008 second-round pick of the Sacramento Kings. “For me to get that knowledge now was a really big thing.”
The idea to represent Jamaica, Ennis told Villanova.com in June, came from a not-so-serious place. Although he has spent most of his life in major metropolitan areas, both of Ennis’ parents call the island paradise home. When his father wondered aloud what would happen if Ennis played for Jamaica’s national team, a somewhat facetious suggestion turned into something more serious.
Ennis eventually made contact with head coach Sam Vincent, who welcomed him to the team with open arms. The youngest member of a squad rife with professional talent, including Ewing Jr. and current NBA big men Samardo Samuels (Cavaliers) and Jerome Jordan (Knicks), Ennis had no problem proving he belonged. The 6-2 point guard with a 6-7 wingspan worked his way into the starting lineup, averaging 8.3 points and 2.5 assists on 57% shooting in leading the Jamaicans to a 4-2 record and a bronze medal in the Centrobasket tournament. By the time he returned stateside, Ennis was a college sophomore with the experience of a seasoned professional.
“We had a lot of pros on the team, and they were able to teach me a lot of things that you just don’t see in college because they’ve been through it,” Ennis told CoBL.
Unfortunately for his new Wildcat teammates, the strides that Ennis made overseas won’t be available to aid them as they search for redemption for last year’s disastrous 13-19 campaign.
Following his freshman season at Rice University, Ennis decided to transfer from the school to be closer to his family in Toronto. After looking into applying for a hardship waiver, he ultimately elected against it, choosing instead to accept the NCAA’s mandatory one-year waiting period. For a gritty competitor who says he can’t remember missing a game, the self-imposed hiatus figures to be a difficult adjustment. Not one, however, without some silver lining.
“Sitting out is going to be tough for me,” Ennis said. “I’m a competitor, and I don’t think I’ve missed a game in my life. It will give me a chance to get a different view on the game, sitting back and seeing things my teammates are good at and what they have to work on. I think I’ll be able to learn a lot more about my teammates. I’ll still be practicing with them, but I get to watch and see their tendencies and everything like that.
“The coaching staff made it clear that when the team travels and I can’t, I’ll still be back here working out, getting shots up, so it’s going to feel like time to get better, not time to slack off.”
A propensity for slacking off isn’t programmed into Ennis’ competitive DNA. If it were, rest assured his Wildcat teammates would snuff it out. That family atmosphere, the one where players are there for each other on and off the court, not afraid to call each other out when necessary, and always ready to fight for their spots, is the main change Ennis has noticed since making the switch from Rice to Villanova.
“I think the biggest difference is the competitiveness,” Ennis said. “At Rice, we were competitive, but here I don’t think a lot of teams in the country work out as much as we do. Here it’s not just the coaches that get on you, but the players as well. If you’re doing something wrong or you’re not going hard, the players as well as the coaches will make sure that you’re up to par.
“On and off the court, it’s a big family, and I love that atmosphere. You can go talk to the players and coaches if you need something, and you know they’re going to be in the gym with you if you want to work hard.”
Ennis saw the competitiveness when he took to the courts with his new teammates for the first time. Well before that, he saw the fire, the Wildcats’ collective drive to erase the memory of the worst season Villanova has had in any of their lifetimes.
“Being around this environment, you can see everybody’s hungry,” Ennis told CoBL. “They had a season where they thought they could do a lot better, and I think everybody is coming back to do better. You can see it in the workouts, you can see it in the weight room, everybody pushing that little bit more to be better this season.”
He won’t be on the court with them this season, but the Wildcats will certainly be better when Ennis becomes eligible next year. Ennis boasts a long frame, a strong defensive presence, and a multi-faceted skill set that helped him average 8.5 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 4.1 assists per game in his only collegiate season.
Unlike his Wildcat mates, Ennis took part in postseason play a year ago, posting 13.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 3.8 assists per contest as the Owls reached the quarterfinals of the CIT Tournament. Playing with Ty Johnson in the Delco Pro-Am–and watching backcourt counterparts Ryan Arcidiacono and Tony Chennault join forces–has Ennis thrilled about the possibilities on the horizon when Guard U has its full complement of weapons a year from now.
“I think all the guards bring something different to the table,” Ennis said. “Coach Wright brought me in to be tough. All my life I’ve played like a tough guard, and I just want to bring leadership as well as being a floor general. I think if I bring the attributes that not a lot of people have, the intangibles, then that can really help the team.
“Playing with (Johnson) in summer league, I’ve seen a lot of the things that he can do and a lot of things I can do to feed off him. Hopefully in practice I’ll get a lot of reps with Ryan and Tony, but definitely playing with Ty in the summer league has helped me get a lot more comfortable with him.”
For Johnson and the rest of his teammates, the feeling is mutual. Although he’s only been at Villanova for a few months, Ennis is already a Wildcat through and through.
“It’s fun playing with Dylan,” Johnson told CoBL. “Right now, he doesn’t totally know the system, but he’s catching on quick. He’s listening to the coaches and he’s buying in to what we preach here at Villanova. He’s a good kid overall. He’s a well-rounded person, and it’s a blessing to have him here.”