Tyler Ennis isn't likely to be available when the Toronto Raptors make their first pick at No. 20 in the NBA Draft on June 26. But that didn't stop the team from bringing him to town Thursday to get better acquainted with the calm and cool Canadian freshman point guard who dazzled at Syracuse.
As NBA teams start to work out draft prospects, Ennis, a native of nearby Brampton, Ont., did his first one at Toronto's Air Canada Centre. He and projected first or second overall pick Andrew Wiggins headline what could be the biggest crop of Canadians ever selected in the NBA Draft, at least since it went to a two-round format. Some draft gurus project Ennis will go as high as seventh overall, while others guess he'll drop as low as 25. Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri would be "surprised" to find Ennis available at No.20, but if so, the team would be intrigued.
"The couple games I went to [watch him at Syracuse], he was quiet for some parts of the game and then had a big scoring outburst," said Ujiri on Thursday, noting that the Raptors also interviewed Ennis at last month's NBA combine in Chicago. "We've tracked him a long time. He's very poised, plays very calm – that's the first thing I noticed. And he gets his teammates involved. When he needs to score, he takes care of business, and that's a good trait to have as an NBA player."
The 19-year-old mesmerized the college basketball world several times during his single season at Syracuse, where his team began 25-0. He showed jaw-dropping late-game heroics on many occasions. After Ennis hit an unbelievable half-court buzzer beater to steal a midseason victory over Pittsburgh, U.S. vice-president Joe Biden rang the youngster to express his awe. The Orange faithful started wearing t-shirts that read 'ICE MAN' with a maple leaf centering the A, a nod to the unflappable Canadian.
The poised 6-foot-2 floor general was a finalist for the Naismith Trophy as college basketball player of the year. He declared for the draft shortly after No. 3-seeded Syracuse was upset by No. 11 Dayton in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, a game where a last-second Ennis three-point shot didn't fall.
A year ago, he wouldn't have guessed he would only be playing one college season. He thought he would need two to adjust to the physicality and thrive in the Syracuse zone. Now many call him the best true point guard in the draft, a guy with composure beyond his years.
"Going in, I don't think anyone figured me for a one-and-done," said Ennis Thursday. "But I was able to prove to people that I could be."
His basketball talent began to root in Brampton, where he learned the game on a Fisher Price hoop with his two older brothers in the basement and on the street in front of their house. Eventually, he ran the floor for Brampton-based powerhouse club CIA Bounce, playing with other area kids also destined for the NCAA and NBA ranks, such as Wiggins.
Ennis, who has modeled his game after Jason Kidd and Tony Parker, says he's ready for anything.
"I'm able to adjust to any playing style and able to compete with anyone for minutes," said Ennis. "If a team has a point guard established and I can learn from him for a few years, then I can do that. But if a team needs a point guard to come in and take over, I'm able to do that too."
Ennis will join a wave of Canadian talent drafted in recent years, including 2013 first-rounders Anthony Bennett and Kelly Olynyk, or 2011 picks Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph, all Toronto-area locals. Upward of six to eight Canadians are projected as picks next month, including Michigan sophomore Nick Stauskas.
Two other Canadians worked out for the Raptors on Thursday. Wichita State forward Chadrack Lufile of Burlington, Ont., as well as Calgary's Jordan Bachynski, a 7-foot-2 centre from Arizona State who led the NCAA in total blocks this year and was the PAC-12 Conference Defensive Player of the Year.
The Raptors also worked out guards Jake Odum (Indiana State) and Keith Appling (Michigan State), forwards Jordan Dykstra (South Dakota State) and Ronald Roberts Jr. (Saint Joseph's), as well as centres Chad Posthumus (Morehead State) and Norvel Pelle (Delaware – NBA D League).
The Raptors have scheduled workouts with unspecified players for next Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. While Ujiri is keeping team priorities close to the vest, depth at power forward would appear a need. They have two second-round picks in the draft as well at No. 37 and 59.