St. Benedict’s won 68 games over two seasons with Ennis running the floor, beating several of the top high-school teams in the U.S. and falling just short of winning a prep national championship. The team won two Class A state titles and Ennis was the 2012 Gatorade New Jersey prep player of the year.
Canada Basketball also brought him into the fold. Ennis won a bronze medal with Canada at the 2012 FIBA Americas Under-18 Championship. He then had an impressive run at the FIBA Under-19 World Championship, leading the tournament in scoring, including a 42-point performance in an overtime win over China.
Although he seriously considered Arizona, Louisville, Illinois, Memphis and UCLA, he committed early to Syracuse. He spent his senior year of high school meticulously studying video of Syracuse games, closely watching then-point guard Michael Carter-Williams, who was about leave for the NBA. Ennis knew that job would be his when he arrived on campus.
His first college season began with a pre-season tour of exhibition games in Canada. Along the way, star scorer C.J. Fair was sidelined with a minor injury and took Ennis aside. “He said, ‘You have to take over this game, or we’re going to lose,’ and that was the moment that I knew I had the keys to this team,” Ennis said. “That’s when I got comfortable and started playing my game.”
The youngster routinely jogs confidently up the floor chewing gum, never appearing nervous or hurried even with the game on the line. At 6-foot-2, 180 pounds, he looks slight as he dishes skillful passes to the likes of 6-foot-8 Fair and 6-foot-9 Rakeem Christmas or slithers through opponents to the hoop himself.
“Tyler’s been great under pressure throughout the whole season but goes at his own pace and he’s not sped up by anyone,” said Fair, a senior enjoying the best scoring average of his career. “He sees plays develop long before they happen. He has a great feel for the game, and he’s very easy to play with.”
He’s also had uncanny get-up in the dying moments of tight games: delivering sure-fire dunk opportunities, coolly drawing fouls and sinking free throws, or pouring in key comeback points. His most memorable moment came against Pittsburgh, when, with Syracuse down by a point and time running out, he raced up-court, squared up just past mid-court and unleashed a last-ditch shot right on the money – a game-winning buzzer-beater that had one crushed Pitt fan yelping an audible “Are you kidding me?”
“Tyler, for us, he’s so valuable. He plays 40 minutes in the [Atlantic Coast Conference games]. We can’t win a game without him. Literally,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim recently told ESPN. “If you talk about the best pro prospect [in the ACC], it’s [Duke freshman forward] Jabari Parker, but who’s the most valuable to his team? … I don’t know where we would be without Tyler Ennis.”
Some nights, upwards of 12 to 15 NBA scouts visit the Carrier Dome, many with their eyes glued to Ennis. Syracuse won its first 25 games and spent much of the season ranked No.1, before suffering some recent losses. They rarely dominate opponents and have earned the moniker “Cardiac Cuse.” When Ennis impresses, they flash his face on the video board with the words THE MENACE.
His parents and siblings often make the five-hour drive from Brampton to watch him play and snicker at his celebrity as he’s stopped for autographs and photos everywhere they go. Fellow students often click his picture and tweet his every move.
“I could go on Twitter and know exactly where he is at every moment and what he’s eating for dinner,” McIntyre said with a laugh. “Sometimes the coaches ask me, ‘Is he doing okay with all of this?’and I’m like, ‘Yeah, he’s worked really hard for this and he’s really enjoying himself – he’s doing great.’”