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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.

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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.

Interested betting on the Oregon team? – Don’t miss out on reading our guide about sports betting in Oregon first!

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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