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.
NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. — Ever since Tristan Thompson and Myck Kabongo enrolled at St. Benedict’s Prep for the 2007-08 season, the school has been associated with talented Canadian basketball players.
Yet Thompson, the No. 4 overall pick in last month’s NBA Draft, was kicked out of the program by then-coach Dan Hurley and departed for Henderson (Nev.) Findlay Prep to finish out his senior season. Kabongo, a year younger, also left for Findlay after Hurley departed for Wagner College and was replaced by Roshown McLeod.
Now, with McLeod having been replaced by first-year coach Mark Taylor, a younger generation of talented Canadians will launch a new era at the Newark school beginning this season.
Tyler Ennis, a 6-foot-3 point guard who played under McLeod last season, will be joined this year by a pair of 6-8 Canucks, Isaiah Watkins and Denzell Taylor. Ennis, Watkins and Taylor all play for the CIA Bounce 16U team that went 3-1 at last week’s Peach Jam.
“In Canada right now, because of Tristan and Myck Kabongo, it’s a pretty easy sell when you said, ‘Do you want to go to St. Benedict’s?'” said Tony McIntyre, who is Ennis’ father, the owner of the CIA Bounce program and the man who helped develop Thompson until he went to St. Benedict’s.
“From [a] being ready perspective, it’s the school you need to be in.”
“I think, bottom line is if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” added CIA Bounce 17U coach Mike George. “I mean, Tristan went over there and did a great job. Myck Kabongo did a phenomenal job. And Tyler did extremely well last year. And with these new guys coming in, I think St. Benedict’s gets an advantage because these kids are used to playing with each other. And for us [CIA Bounce], it’s great exposure, great training, they’re playing against high-level competition. And then when they’re coming back to play AAU or summer ball, it’s also great so it all works together.”‘
Ennis excelled after arriving at St. Benedict’s in January last season and opted to remain at the Newark school after the coaching change.
His stock continues to rise on the summer circuit.
In four games at the Peach Jam, he averaged 26.8 points, including 37 in the team’s final game.
Ennis has a long list of offers, including Rutgers, Seton Hall, Iowa State, West Virginia, Oregon State, Santa Clara and Rice, but says he has no favorite.
“There’s a couple people that are starting to step up,” McIntyre said. “Seton Hall’s been at every game. Cincinnati’s been here. Iowa State was at every game.”
After spending a year at St. Benedict’s, Ennis convinced Watkins and Taylor to come South of the Border.
“I noticed that we were short on bigs this year, so we got the best bigs in Toronto,” Ennis said. “We decided might as well bring them since they’re the best.”
Ennis and Watkins, who averaged 17.8 points at the Peach Jam, had played against one another since they were young kids.
“I was playing at North Toronto Basketball and we played against each other in all-star games and stuff like that, and every time I saw him I was like who is this guy?” Watkins said. “I’m loving playing with him, and he ultimately made it clear that I was going to go to St. Benedict’s.
“He pretty much said, ‘I think you should come on down to St. Benedict’s,’ and I was more than happy to come on.”
“Isaiah’s dad, when he first started playing with me, he said that he wants to make sure that wherever I go he wants Isaiah to go,” Ennis said. “And then Denzell did the same thing. So pretty much wherever I decided to go, they were going to try to come with me so we could keep the same trio.”
Added Watkins: “I think we have a lot of fun together. Denzell’s a great guy, a great defender and I love playing defense with him.”
Of the three, Taylor is the most raw.
“Denzell is a little raw,” McIntyre said. “He’s super-athletic. He’s a shot-blocker. He’s a rebounder. Isaiah’s a little bit more polished offensively. He can score the ball. He’s got a great jump shot. But Denzell’s a guy that’s going to come in there and give St. Benedict’s a lot of minutes. He’s like an Andrew Nicholson from St. Bonaventure, same body type and same role. He’ll develop a lot getting in the gym more.”
Since the three Canucks have already established a chemistry in AAU ball, St. Benedict’s stands to benefit.
“Their ability to find each other, they’re confident, they’re friends on and off the court, and just the chemistry is going to come into [St. Benedict’s] and help coach Mark right off the bat,” McIntyre said. “For sure.”
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
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.