Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
Dylan and Tyler Ennis didn’t let their immediate future ruin Christmas break.
Even though Dylan’s Villanova Wildcats are heading up to play Tyler’s Syracuse Orange on Saturday, the brothers were able to be just that when they headed back to Toronto for the holiday. And, indeed, brotherly they were–even moreso than perhaps your average pair of college-aged siblings.
“We actually slept in the same bed the last night,” Dylan told reporters before the Wildcats practiced on Thursday afternoon.
Oh yeah, they’re pretty close. Dylan calls Tyler his “best friend,” though for one day this weekend’s that’s going to change.
“The competitor in me overshadows the brother in me,” he said. “He’s my brother for 364 days out of the year, and that one day we play him, he’s the enemy.”
And what an enemy it is. This isn’t just any basketball game–this is Syracuse/Villanova, with both teams undefeated and ranked in the top 10 to boot. This is 30,000-plus fans packed into the Carrier Dome, mostly clad in orange, with a sprinkle of blue likely to show up in one of the bigger college basketball arenas in the country.
Even though Syracuse left the Big East for the Atlantic Coast Conference, this has all the makings and feel of one of those classic clashes, like the one last year when Villanova upset the No. 3 Orange 75-71 in overtime at the Wells Fargo Center.
That closeness isn’t exhibited just between Dylan and Tyler, who are the second and third oldest of six siblings–their older brother Brandon is a senior at University of the District of Columbia, and they also have two younger sisters and a younger brother. All of them play basketball.
“My wife and I were like, ‘If this is a goal that we’re going to chase, we have to make sure that we stay connected,’’ their father, Tony McIntyre, told CoBL. “Because it’s really easy to go off and only talk every couple of days, but all of us talk every day and make sure that we’re supporting each other.”
And they certainly don’t ignore the basketball side of their world.
“You check in, you watch each other’s games, you check each other’s stats, you talk about each other’s games,” McIntyre added.
This season, Dylan’s second in college and Tyler’s first, there has been plenty to discuss. Both Syracuse and Villanova are 11-0, earning them the No. 2 and No. 8 rankings in the country, respectively, according to the Associated Press’ most recent poll. And both brothers have been key reasons their teams are where they are.
Though he missed the first four games of the season, Dylan Ennis played a huge role in ‘Nova’s Battle 4 Atlantis title, going 8-of-12 from 3-point range down in the Bahamas as the Wildcats beat both then-No. 2 Kansas and No. 23 Iowa as well Southern Cal. After seven games, he’s averaging 9.1 ppg, 3.4 rpg and 3.1 apg in 21.4 mpg off the bench, serving as Jay Wright’s sixth man.
The younger Ennis has been even more impressive. Though he had to fill the shoes of NBA first-round draft pick and current Philadelphia 76ers rookie Michael Carter-Williams, Tyler has made quite a few people forget MCW with his play. The 6-foot-2 point guard is averaging 12.1 ppg while hitting 43.5 percent of his 3-pointers, and he’s third in the ACC in assists (5.4 apg), tops in steals (2.8 spg) and second in assist/turnover ratio (4.5:1).
“We started recruiting him when he was a sophomore, so we’re not really surprised in the maturity that we’ve seen,” Wright said of the younger brother. “He’s just wise beyond his years, he’s definitely a wily veteran in a freshman body.”
There’s sure to be more than a few moments where Ennis meets Ennis out on the court, when the Carrier Dome drops away and the two are back in their driveway in Canada. While Dylan might have to contain his younger brother one-on-one at points, Tyler will have Syracuse’s trademark 2-3 zone behind him to help out on his big bro.
“He always tells me, ‘you’ve gotta guard me, but I’m in the zone, so I don’t have to guard you,” Dylan said.
Wright has often voiced his concern about a players’ ability to concentrate when playing in front of a home crowd. He’s never had to deal with a player going up against a brother–but if seeing a few familiar faces in the crowd has an effect, then seeing one on the court is sure to alter the equation a bit.
“I know how important family is to them, so it’s got to affect them in some way,” Wright said. “It’s got to be crazy being home for Christmas and know this is coming up.
“I just hope [Dylan] can handle it, and I hope it really affects Tyler a lot.”
And how will it affect the family?
“I’m just going to try to have fun, I’m going to enjoy it,” McIntyre said. “I like both coaches, I like both teams. Unfortunately someone’s got to lose and someone’s got to win. I leave a winner and a loser on the same day but at the end, just a winner because both of my kids are chasing their dreams, getting to play against each other in the midst of that chase.”
After 40 minutes of action (and maybe an overtime or two) on Saturday, one Ennis brother is sure to be happier than the other. By Sunday, expect things to be back to normal, like they were in Ontario this past week for the holidays.
“It wasn’t seeing a competitor,” Dylan said. “It was seeing my brother.”