Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
A Tale of Two Canadians: Ennis Succeeding at Syracuse, While Wiggins Still Adjusting at Kansas
NEW YORK — For the past several years on the summer AAU circuit, Andrew Wiggins benefitted from having Tyler Ennis as his point guard with the Canadian outfit CIA Bounce.
While Ennis was never ranked as high as point guards like Andrew Harrison and Kasey Hill by the recruiting services, anyone who ever watched CIA Bounce play knew that Ennis was the engine that made them run, the poised and polished floor general who put Wiggins in the space to succeed.
Led by Ennis, Wiggins and Xavier Rathan-Mayes, that team reached the finals of the 2012 Nike Hoop Summit — losing to a James Young-led USA Midwest team — and the finals of the 2012 Peach Jam — losing to an Aaron Gordon-led Oakland Soldiers outfit on a late phantom foul call on Wiggins.
Now the two old friends have gone their separate ways — Wiggins to Kansas and Ennis to Syracuse — but they still stay in touch.
“I talked to him a couple weeks ago,” Ennis told SNY.tv exclusively after putting up 21 points, 6 assists and 3 rebounds as No. 2 Syracuse remained unbeaten with a 68-63 win over St. John’s in Ennis’ first game at Madison Square Garen.
“He’s just going through the same thing, adjusting to college and just enjoying his little time in college.”
With a small sample size of only 10 games for each player, is it too early to suggest that Ennis is succeeding more without Wiggins than Wiggins is sans Ennis?
After Ennis put on a virtuoso performance on Sunday at the Garden, the No. 2 Orange improved to 10-0.
After its first 10 games, No. 13 Kansas is 7-3 and still seemingly finding itself.
As he told SNY.tv exclusively, Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim does not believe that the Fab Frosh group of Wiggins, Gordon, Jabari Parker and Julius Randle are “transcendent players” in the mold of LeBron James and Tim Duncan.
Not transcendent enough for NBA franchises to tank for.
He thinks they’re great players, but that the gap between that group and Ennis is perhaps not as great as some would think.
As if to illustrate his point, the game turned with St. John’s leading 60-58 when Ennis scored four straight points — on two free throws and a driving basket — to put Syracuse up 62-60 for good.
“He’s a very, very smart player,” Boeheim said of Ennis. “As a freshman point guard, he’s playing better than anybody I’ve ever had and I’ve had just a few pretty good freshman point guards [Pearl Washington, Adrian Autry, Jason Hart and Gerry McNamara].
“He’s really been unbelievable. If he played like a normal freshman, we’d be about 7-3 probably right now. I thought we were rated too high, but Maybe the rating people are smarter than me, they knew Tyler was better than whatever his rating was.”
Of course, Ennis is playing alongside some great players, too. C.J. Fair had 21 points and Jerami Grant 14. Trevor Cooney has also played very well all season for the Orange.
Wiggins, meantime, has flashed his dominance at times, such as when he went for 26 points and 11 rebounds in a recent loss to Florida. But at other times he has been accused of being too passive.
Of course, Kansas has alternated between Frank Mason and Naadir Tharpe at the point. Tony McIntyre, Ennis’ father and the CIA Bounce coach, says Kansas needs to figure out how to maximize Wiggins’ talents.
“I think the key with Kansas is to get him involved early and get him out and running in transition,” McIntyre told SNY.tv exclusively following the Syracuse game.
“I think you notice where he starts to score is where he’s got some space and some room. I just think they haven’t been giving up the ball to him early enough and let him attack.”
Still, McIntyre believes that Wiggins will continue to improve and the nation will eventually see his best game — even as he plays without Ennis as his point guard.
“He’s just scratching the surface right now,” McIntyre said of Wiggins, the projected No. 1 pick in 2014. “When he gets going, you’re starting to see his defense is picking up, his running the floor is starting to pick up, his jump shot is starting to pick up, so it’s coming together.”
Ennis, too, believes Wiggins will get better with time, even if he’s not there to feed him the ball in those spots where he’s used to getting the basketball.
“I think he’s playing well so far but i don’t think it’s the best that he has,” Ennis said of Wiggins. “I don’t think that’s the best that he can play.”
Still, ESPN and the sports world in general continues to obsess about Wiggins, as well as Parker, Randle and Gordon.
Ennis, not so much.
Some sportswriters courtside at the Garden Sunday were seeing Ennis for the first time, unaware of his past accomplishments, unaware that he had led St. Benedict’s Prep to the brink of an ESPN high school championship last April.
For his part, Ennis doesn’t care about all the attention the other freshmen are getting.
“I dont know if he really cares, to be honest,” McIntyre said . “He’ll be judged and wants to be judged by how far this team goes and that’s the type of kid he is.”
Yes, Ennis has an ego, but for him it’s all about team success.
That’s why he chose Syracuse in the first place.
And now he’s only worried about how far the team goes, not about the props Wiggins and the others are getting.
“Those guys are ranked top-five in their class and expected to go first round so they’re going to get that attention,” he said.
“I’m just playing my role on my team. And If we keep winning and keep being successful, I know the recognition will come.”
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Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.