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Dylan Ennis Taking A Different Path

Oregon guard Dylan Ennis speaks to Oliver Maroney about his roller coaster basketball career, brother Tyler and more.

Oliver Maroney

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Dylan Ennis, brother of former Syracuse guard and current Houston Rocket’s player Tyler Ennis, is a coach in a player’s body. He brings excitement, energy and endless passion to the game of basketball. He leads by example, but also with both exhausting and exhilarating play. He doesn’t have a signature move, but rather a number of moves that keep the opposition on their heels. With his bleach-blond hair patch, he pounds the court before games and projects an intimidating presence to opponents.

The numbers don’t fully do his play justice, but do confirm the 6’2 guard is everywhere at once: Dylan leads the 16-2 Oregon Ducks in assists, steals and minutes played Additionally, he is fourth in scoring and third in rebounding.

It all started from the day Dylan was born. His mother would enter labor and eventually give birth to Dylan – all while his biological father was in the same hospital suffering from a gunshot wound to the head. Dylan’s father, Jonathan Howell, would end up paralyzed on the left side of his body. Two years later, he would separate with Dylan’s mother. From that point on, Dylan would start to split time with his stepfather (whom he refers to as his father), Tony McIntyre, and Jonathan.

“On the weekends, when I didn’t have basketball, I’d go to Jonathan’s house,” Dylan told Basketball Insiders. “All other times, I’d be with Tony. He coached my basketball teams and so we spent a lot of time together. When I was younger and even now, I never wanted one father to feel more important than the other. Growing up they both gave me the whole world, both of them. Tony, I lived with him my entire life, he was my coach, my best friend, him and I would talk about basketball twenty-four seven. He was my dad, so he helped me grow up into a man. My other father, my biological father, Jonathan, he was there when I needed him, as far as on the weekends. He knew that he was only going to get three days out of three or four weeks with me, but he made the best of it.”

The Ennis’s were a basketball family. Dylan’s older brother Brandon and younger brother Tyler both played basketball. In fact, all members of the Ennis family played basketball in some capacity. His other siblings Dominique, Tyylon and Brittany also play the game. His father was the coach of many basketball teams, including the three brothers’, growing up. But Tyler and Dylan were probably the closest of the siblings as far as basketball was concerned.

“He was a bit older than me, but we were basically twins,” Tyler Ennis told Basketball Insiders. “We did everything together. Even now he’s my best friend, we talk every day.”

Dylan knew he wanted to pursue basketball at the highest level. He’d been pushed by his father and motivated by his family. They all were close enough in age to where the support was mutually beneficial and contributed to their success on and off the court.

“When I was four, I knew I wanted to play in the NBA,” Dylan told Basketball Insiders. “I think that came from playing and watching all my siblings. Growing up, Brandon and I played with each other from the age of four to about 10 years old. Then he went off, got older and got into teams where you start playing your own age group. So then Tyler did what I did when I played up with Brandon. He played up with me for a few years and that’s why I think he developed so well. My dad always coached about two or three teams at a time so we’d be running from gym to gym to make sure that we could watch each other play. Typical tournament weekends we’d leave as a family around 9:00 AM and not get back until about 10:00 or 11:00 at night because we’d all stay and watch each other play. It was a basketball family, everything we did we dedicated to basketball and that was our life. We all loved it.”

Dylan would move on to high school, which is when his dad determined that moving to New York with his uncle Paul Ruddock would be his best move.

When I was fourteen, my dad said, ‘You’re really good, we should have you looking at going to school in New York,'” Dylan said.  “At the time, New York City was the mecca of basketball and my uncle Paul was known in New York City as a coach, so he offered to help me get into a basketball school. Once we went down there, we determined the best school for me to go to was Wings Academy because it was in a public league that everybody loved. It was good competition, it had Lance Stephenson and Sebastian Telfair coming out of it. He had a friend who coached at Wings Academy in the Bronx and we lived on Long Island, so when I went there I thought the coach would drive me up to school but that wasn’t the case.”

Dylan would take two different buses and walk over 30 minutes to get to school, amounting to nearly three hours of travel each way. He’d wake up at 5:30 AM and get to school around 8:30 AM, and while the travel was hard, it wasn’t just waking up early that made the change hard to get used to.

“I just wanted to play basketball at the highest level, so I was going to do everything it took,” Dylan said. “Going there, it sounds great, ‘Wings Academy,’ but it was actually right in the middle of a lot of poverty and bad gang related neighborhoods. We don’t talk about this too much, but there was a time when a couple of my teammates got jumped going to practice. Our school was so small, so we had to go to another gym that was in a really bad neighborhood. So the team decided everybody would travel with these small pocket knives. Me being from Canada, I never experienced anything like that, but they said ‘Dylan, if something happens we have to protect ourselves.’ So we all got these little pocket knives to put in our pockets. Luckily I never had to use it, but we’d be on the train together, on the subway, and get to practice and we always had to be on the lookout for anybody trying to get us. It was a tough two years, and I never told my mom while I was gone because I knew she’d worry about my safety.”

Dylan carried that experience at Wings Academy with him and to this day he’s grateful that he was put in that position. His uncle Paul, with whom he lived in New York City, is like a third father to Dylan.

“He instilled that New York toughness in me,” Dylan said.

After Wings, Dylan would transfer to Lake Forest Academy in Illinois, moving once again to a new city and new surroundings. Only this time, he’d get the full live-in experience before college. He would work tirelessly, getting up at 6:00 AM with his assistant coach and working on every part of his game. Dylan was unsure of where he’d go to college, but was confident that he was destined for a top-five school.

“I never, not one time, said ‘I’m not going to play at a top school in the country,'” Dylan said.

Dylan would be in the weight room every other day getting bigger, stronger and better. Before his junior season at the Academy, mid-major schools started to show interest in the product from Ontario. He would verbally commit to Akron University before his junior year in high school and then later open his recruiting back up before his senior season because he improved and started turning heads. He got “a lot of offers,” but ended up committing to Rice University because he felt he could make an immediate impact as a freshman.

He would graduate high school and attend Rice, where he was a projected starter and go-to leader. But three weeks before the season started he got very sick and missed precious time with the team, which forced him to sit out most of his first seven games. But Dylan proved resilient, and would eventually propel himself to an incredible freshman season. He would go on to be named to the Conference USA All-Freshman Team for a rookie season in which he set a school freshman record for assists (144) while averaging 8.5 points to go along with 37 steals and 21 blocks.

That lone freshman season would give Dylan confidence, which would be enough for him to make a change once again. This time, his father and he felt that Rice was going to hold Dylan back from his true potential.

“I knew that I wanted to be one of the top guards in the country,” Ennis said. “I knew I wanted to compete for a national championship and play basketball at the professional level. In order to do that, we just decided that we should take our chances and try and go to a high-major school. Once I had that discussion with my father, I talked to the Rice coaches to tell them how I felt about it. It went back and forth and they tried to make me stay, but I knew it wasn’t the greatest environment for me to become the best basketball player I could be. So, I got my release and then about twenty to twenty-five schools started calling me and my father. Pittsburgh, Villanova, Cincinnati, Virginia, all the schools I wanted coming out of high school. That was really good to hear, it was a sense of reaffirmation.”

He’d moved multiple times over the course of five years to get to that top national level, but nothing was taken for granted. Dylan finally got his pick, and it didn’t take long for him to decide where he’d end up.

“I remember when [Villanova head coach Jay Wright] first called me,” Dylan said. “It was a three-way call with me and my dad, and my dad was like, ‘Coach Wright wants to offer you scholarships.’ And I said, ‘I want to commit right now,’ and he goes, ‘Dylan, you’ve got to wait a little bit, you’ve got to wait.’ Watching Villanova growing up they had amazing guards, but we waited it out and I visited there. I also visited Cincinnati, and I was going to visit Boston College and Virginia as well but I just knew I wanted to go to Villanova after the visit.”

Dylan would go to Villanova, sitting out his first year and working with Billy Lange, current Philadelphia 76ers skill development coach and former assistant at Villanova. They would spend almost every day together – working on strength, conditioning and improving him on the court. As the year went by, rumors around campus were that Dylan was going to be the next big player at Villanova. Everything was looking on “the up and up,” as Dylan explained.

Then, a week before the season, Dylan was playing in a team scrimmage with NBA scouts watching. Early on in the scrimmage, he came off a ball screen and hit his hand on a teammate’s knee.

“I didn’t think nothing of it (the injury),” Dylan said. “I went to the trainer and he said it was just swollen. So, I practiced the rest of the practice and I went to bed. I woke up the next morning and found that it was still swollen. I went back to the trainer again and they ordered me to get an MRI. I waited for the results, and when they got the MRI back they told me it was broken.”

Dylan would eventually make it back on the court during that season, but it wouldn’t be the same. In the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, which featured Kansas (with Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins), USC and some other notable national powerhouses, Dylan was regarded as one of the best players in the tournament. In wins against Kansas and USC, he scored 14 points on 80 percent shooting in each game. But during the process, Dylan suffered a sprained finger on his shooting hand, which affected his season and led to inconsistent performances.

That was the same season that younger brother Tyler began attending Syracuse University. He’d would go on to be a Second-Team All-ACC player, First-Team Parade All-American and be regarded as one of the best freshmen in the country. He had such a good season that he ended up declaring for the 2014 NBA Draft, and eventually was selected 18th overall by the Phoenix Suns.

“That was when I started to question basketball,” Ennis told Basketball Insiders. “When you go through so much to get back on the court and get injured again, there’s just a lot that goes through your mind. I don’t have any resentment towards my brother whatsoever because I know how good he is and I know how much he’s worked. But you’re in the same family and you see so much success from your younger brother and you think ‘why’ when I worked just as hard.”

Dylan was the older brother who brought Tyler around everywhere. He knew what his older brother Brandon did for him, so he tried to do the same for Tyler. They would play two-on-two with others, they’d work out together, they’d virtually do everything together. Dylan recalls Tyler getting drafted.

It was definitely mixed emotions when we were sitting in the green room at the draft,” he said. “I think I was happier than he was getting drafted but, at the same time, it dawned on me: ‘I want to be here one day and I’m just waiting it out.'”

That’s when Dylan would push himself even further. He’d put more fuel on the fire and develop into a starting guard at Villanova for his third collegiate season.

“That summer I’d work my tail off and earned a starting spot,” Ennis said.

He would go on to play valiantly for the Wildcats, averaging 9.9 points, 3.5 assists, 3.7 rebounds and one steal per game.

But at the end of the season, Dylan would come to another decision as to whether he’d stay at Villanova or leave as a graduate transfer. He loved Coach Wright, the program and his teammates, but decided that he’d make a leap and try something new. He would transfer to the University of Oregon after having a long conversation with Coach Wright. To this day, the two still talk frequently as Wright and Dylan have mutual respect for one another.

“I was shocked and disappointed that he left,” said Coach Wright. “He’s an incredible young man who did everything we asked of him at Villanova. He graduated on time, played great and was an exceptional teammate and outstanding representative of the program. He was very honest and clear about the situation (with him leaving) and I was fully understanding and supported his decision to leave. We still text and talk to each other. I love that kid.”

Dylan left to become the leader of the Oregon Ducks basketball team, but would miss most of his first season with a broken foot. He still would make his presence felt immediately, though.

“Even though he was injured a majority of his first season and summer, he had an immediate presence on our locker room,” Former reserve guard Theo Friedman said. “He’s got natural leadership that I’ve never seen throughout my basketball career. To this day, he’s one of the best teammates I’ve had despite never getting to play alongside him due to the injury. He just knows how to communicate and talk to teammates. I basically viewed him as a coach on the floor. He’s probably the only player I’ve played with who could actually be considered a floor general.”

Going through another season riddled with injuries wasn’t easy for Dylan. But coincidentally, he found someone in a similar situation as him, which made it easier to find the silver lining at Oregon.

“When I got here, this girl (Megan Trinder) on the basketball team had recently torn her ACL,” Dylan said.  “So I see her around, and we talked, hung out and became good friends. Then, not too long after we became friends, I break my foot. Now I’m out and she’s just recovering from her ACL and it’s funny how things work but, from me being hurt to her being hurt, we just became closer and closer until we started to date. Eventually, I’d get back on the court after breaking my foot for a second time last year and she was there throughout to help me. Now, coincidentally, she recently tore her ACL again and I’m playing Nurse Dylan for her. Injuries have just shown me who’s there for you and I think the injuries we’ve both had have only helped us in times of frustration and loneliness.” 

Dylan’s injury history is alarming, but it’s also what sets him apart from other players. He’s been through it all and plays with as much heart as any player on the floor. If you talk to any University of Oregon staff member, there is never any doubt about him or his ability.

“Dylan, pound for pound, may be the most dangerous guard in the PAC-12,” Oregon assistant coach Mike Mennenga said. “His skill and physicality make it very difficult to keep him out of the paint. He has really embraced Coach Altman’s offensive philosophy of making ‘simple plays’ and thus his offensive efficiency has skyrocketed, especially when you consider his three-point percentage and assist to turnover ratio. Defensively, Dylan is built to be an elite defender. His [6’8] wingspan has led our team’s defensive surge with his IQ and communication. Most importantly, Dylan is all about the team. A ‘tough-minded’ gladiator who is loved and respected throughout the program. He makes us and his teammates better.”

Dylan has his imprint all over this Oregon Ducks team, which has won 14 straight, and he’s become the focal point of their locker room. After being out for most of last season, he’s come back this season better than ever, leading the team both on and off-the-court.

“When I got to Oregon I didn’t want [my teammates] to not know my character,” Dylan said. “I wanted them to know that I’m here for the team. A leader doesn’t say, ‘I’m here to take all of the shots’ or, ‘I’m here to tell you what to do.’ A leader says, ‘I want to win, and I’m going to do everything I can for us to win.’ And that’s what I did when I got here.”

Dylan is beginning his final chapter with Oregon and finishing his Master’s Degree in Conflict and Dispute Resolution this spring. He’s managed to balance the thesis project, internship hours and basketball in his final year at the school while pursuing his lifelong dream of becoming an NBA player after the season is over.

Whether Dylan makes it to the NBA is still to be determined, but what is clear is that he is extremely selfless and puts his teammates first. With his leadership qualities, unique experiences and potential, it would surprise no one if he carved out a role in the world’s top basketball league.

 

For more on the Oregon Ducks’ basketball team, read up on Ennis’s teammate Dillon Brooks

Oliver Maroney is an NBA writer for Basketball Insiders. He is based in Portland and covers the league as a whole.

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NBA Daily: James Harden on the new All-Star Format and Chris Paul Being Snubbed

James Harden shared his thoughts on the new All-Star game format and teammate Chris Paul not being selected as an All-Star

James Blancarte

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NBA Commissioner Adam Silver made a bold decision to alter the All-Star game format. By allowing the two highest voted players in each conference to be team captains, Silver did away with tradition and the usual West versus East format. While there were a few complaints about the switch, fans were seemingly more vocal about the decision to not televise the selection of players by the team captains.

Well, the results are in and praise for new format has been nearly universal. With players more invested in the new format, and perhaps the $100k per player bonus for the winners, the effort level was up, plays were being drawn up and executed and defense made a surprise appearance in an exciting game that came down to the final possession.

2018 NBA All-Star and Houston Rockets guard James Harden spoke about the All-Star game and the new format.

“I think it is exciting. You get an opportunity, you know, for a mixture of guys to play on the same team together. We’re trying to win though, it’s competitive,” Harden stated. “Obviously, the All-Star game has a lot of highlights but we’re trying to win, we’re going to go out there and prove we’re trying to win.”

Harden, who played for Team Stephen, did not get the win. However, Harden also made it clear that playing in the this year’s All-Star game meant even more having grown up in Los Angeles.

“To be able to play in the big boy game means a lot. I grew up, especially being from LA, you grew up watching Kobe, watching Shaq every single year. You see how fun, you see how exciting it was,” Harden said. “Now to be here, to be in the city is more special.”

While Harden made it a point to talk about what it means to play in Los Angeles, another factor he seemed excited and appreciative about was being the first player picked for Team Stephen.

“Man, that’s a great feeling. Just because in middle school I was the last pick. So, to be the number one pick in the All-Star game, that’s what the swag champ is for,” Harden said.

Harden wasn’t universally positive about All-Star Weekend. Specifically, he was not happy about being the only Rockets All-Star – especially considering Houston’s standing in the Western Conference playoff race.

“I have a lot to say about that. What are we talking about? Everyone knows Chris Paul is with the Rockets and the Rockets have the number one [record]. How does that not happen?” Harden asked rhetorically. “It’s frustrating. I know he’s frustrated. He never brings it up. That’s why I did say what I said. He’s never going to bring it up. But, I’ll defend for him. He should be here with me in LA as an All-Star.”

Harden had some success as he led his team in minutes and logged 12 points, eight assists and five rebounds. He spoke after the game and confirmed the reconfiguration of the All-Star game produced a competitive game and a fun product for the fans.

“Felt great. I hope all the fans enjoyed [the All-Star game] as well. It was very competitive. Guys got after it from the beginning of the game. Usually All-Star [games] there are a lot of dunks, a lot of freedom. Tonight was intense,” Harden said.

Harden was not wrong with his conclusion that there was less freedom. With less freedom and better defense played, Harden went 5-19 from the field and 2-13 from three-point range while finishing the game without a single free throw attempted. The lack of free throws may have irked Harden, who is renowned for his ability to get to the line (9.9 free throw attempts per game this season). Adding to that frustration, Harden had the opportunity to put his team ahead with a three-pointer late in the game but failed to connect on the shot. Unsurprisingly, Harden expressed his disappointment with the result.

“I was pissed we lost. I’m still mad,” Harden stated.

On the final play of the game, while ignoring Harden, Curry kept the ball with the chance to tie the game. Curry dribbled into a LeBron James/Kevin Durant double team. Curry wasn’t able to get a shot off and Harden was left with his hands up waiting for a pass and a chance to win the game that never came.

Looking toward next year, Harden was asked if as a possible captain he would prefer to have the player selection two weeks before or right before the game. He thought about it and then smiled.

“Probably right before the game,” Harden answered.

Commissioner Silver has spoken on the subject and is sending strong signals that next year’s selection will be televised. That will potentially add another layer of excitement to the new All-Star game format, which is already paying off for the NBA.

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Mitchell Taking Things Day-By-Day, But Loving ‘Whirlwind’ Experience

It’s been a special year for the Utah Jazz rookie sensation.

Spencer Davies

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Four-and-a-half months into the first season of his NBA career, Donovan Mitchell has accomplished some incredible things.

He won back-to-back Rookie of the Month honors between this past December and January. He leads his class with 19.6 points per game and nearly 17 field goal attempts per contest. Due much in part to his contributions, the Utah Jazz are the hottest team in the league, riding an 11-game winning streak after falling far below the .500 mark.

To top all that off, he won the slam-dunk competition just a few days ago in an event for the whole world to see. All of this has been nothing short of amazing for the 21-year-old, and even he didn’t see this coming.

“This whole thing’s just been a whirlwind for me,” Mitchell said at All-Star weekend of his first-year experience. “Just enjoying the process. There are games where I’m just like, ‘Wow this happened’ or ‘Wow that happened’ and it’s a credit to my teammates and the coaching staff and the organization for believing in me.

“Without them, none of this would be possible, so I really thank them for giving me this opportunity.”

Believe it or not, Mitchell wasn’t always so sure about where his life would go. He played for a couple of seasons at Louisville and ended up declaring for the 2017 NBA draft, a night where the Jazz stole him away from every other team by executing a deal with the Denver Nuggets to land the 13th overall pick in Salt Lake City.

“I tell people all the time this wasn’t my plan,” Mitchell said at All-Star weekend. “After two years of college, being here for All-Star and even being in the NBA wasn’t entirely my plan, so I’m just taking it one step at a time, one day at a time, praising God for this opportunity he’s given me.”

So far, Mitchell is picking things up on the go. As he keeps improving and solidifying his game on the court, he’s also bettering himself mentally.

“If I just continue to be humble and continue to learn, that’s the biggest thing is learning and understanding the game,” Mitchell said. “I make the joke that it’s easy to study film and watch all the games when you don’t have five classes to study for throughout the day. So it’s been fun and I’m just taking it day by day.”

It’s pretty awesome that he’s doing what he’s doing with friends by his side. Most of us think of this class of rookies as a special group because of their talents as players, but it’s a tight-knit inner circle of friends who are enjoying every second of life in the NBA together.

Kyle Kuzma, John Collins, De’Aaron Fox, and Dennis Smith Jr. are friends Mitchell mentioned that he’s been close with for a while, and to see all of their hard work culminate so quickly at the Rising Stars game in Los Angeles is something special.

“I’ve known a lot of these guys, pretty much everybody on this team since high school for the most part,” Mitchell said. “Kinda hanging the same way we did in high school just a lot more cameras, a lot more downtime, bigger city.

“It’s fun. Just gotta treat it like it’s fun, go out there and just be kids. Live a dream of ours since we were younger.”

After the weekend he had, Mitchell accomplished that goal.

Whether the next chapter in his career has a Rookie of the Year award written into it or not, we’re seeing spectacular things from the one they call “Spida.”

And it’s about time people are taking notice.

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NBA Daily: Tobias Harris Thrives at Every Stop

Tobias Harris was traded yet again, but thankfully for the Clippers, he’s gotten better every stop he’s made.

Joel Brigham

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When Tobias Harris was a 19-year-old rookie for the Milwaukee Bucks, he faced a lot of the same issues that other 19-year-old rookies before him had faced, most notably the ones dealing with a lack of playing time.

He only saw the floor in 42 games, playing on 11 minutes per contest when he did get out there.

Despite that, it was somewhat of a surprise that the Bucks gave up on his talent so early in his career, trading him to the Orlando Magic just 28 games into his sophomore season as part of a trade for J.J. Redick.

The Magic immediately tripled his minutes, and he’s never been a 30 minutes-per-game guy ever since. He also has never said a negative thing about any team he’s ever played for. As far as he’s concerned, every opportunity is a blessing and a learning experience.

“I didn’t look at Milwaukee as a team giving up on me. I looked at it as Orlando valuing me and seeing me as a piece of the puzzle,” Harris told Basketball Insiders during All-Star Weekend, where he participated in the three-point contest.

“The NBA is about opportunity, so when you get the opportunity you have to make the most of it. Going from a rookie not playing to where I’m at now, it takes a lot of hard work, focus and determination,” he said. “You have to have the confidence in your own self, to understand you can break through in this league.”

And break through he did, in large part because those first 18 months as a professional were so challenging.

“Adversity helped me to work hard,” he said. “I always envisioned myself as a primetime player in this league. I have a ways to go to get there, but that’s the best part about me. My best basketball is ahead of me, and adversity has helped me get there. It’s motivated me, and I want to be the best player I can be. I’m trying every single day to fight for that.”

This season, most of which came as a member of the Detroit Pistons, was a career-best for Harris.

Between the Pistons and L.A. Clippers, Harris has averaged a career-high 18 points per game, and while he wasn’t voted to the All-Star Team this year, his name popped up in the conversation. He’s never been closer.

It was bittersweet for him, though, leaving a Detroit team he liked so much.

“My favorite part was being around those guys [in Detroit],” he said. “It was a great group of guys and a great coaching staff. Coach Van Gundy is a great coach. At the same time, when I first got there, we had a chance to make the playoffs and we got in the playoffs. That was nice for me, to put that pressure on myself and get it done.”

Now, he’s ready to accept his next challenge in Los Angeles with the Clippers.

“I look at every new opportunity as a new chance,” he said. “My first trade from Milwaukee to Orlando was a situation where I just wanted to prove myself to the league. When I was traded from Orlando to Detroit, it was a situation where I wanted to help the team get to the playoffs, and that’s similar to this one here, too… I really like the group of guys that are on this team. I like our demeanor and our approach, so after the break I look forward to building that chemistry and moving forward.”

Of course, moving forward is all he’s ever done.

After everything he’s proven to date, it seems like a given that he’ll continue to make strides with his new team.

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