Since declaring for the NBA Draft after his freshman year at Syracuse University, Los Angeles Lakers point guard Tyler Ennis has already had quite the tumultuous ride to kick off his NBA career. Drafted with the 18th pick in the 2014 NBA Draft by the Phoenix Suns, Ennis was later traded to the Milwaukee Bucks and then the Houston Rockets, before landing in L.A. just minutes before the NBA trade deadline, about a month ago.
We sat down with Ennis to chat about his crazy ride to the NBA, his first encounter with Kobe Bryant, what he’s learned from Steve Nash, what it’s like being one of the few Canadians in the NBA and how it’s all coming full circle.
The fan base first got to know you when you came in for pre-draft workouts at the Lakers facility in 2014 but since then, you were drafted by the Phoenix Suns then traded to Milwaukee, all within your rookie year, then you were traded to Houston, and now you’ve been traded to the Lakers. So, what’s this crazy ride been like for you?
Ups and downs obviously, hectic being the young guy especially with how the league is now, it’s not like back in the day where guys played for one organization, and even if you are LeBron James or the superstars, those guys end up playing for multiple teams, so I kind of look at it as part of my journey, it’s helped me a lot. When I was with the Suns, I was with some really good point guards, Isaiah Thomas, (Goran) Dragic, (Eric) Bledsoe. Then I went to Milwaukee and learned from Jason Kidd, then I went to Houston and learned from James Harden, so I’ve been able to be around a bunch of different point guards every day, so I think it helped me a lot. Especially coming back to a young team, just being on Milwaukee, which is another young team and then going to a playoff team and being able to bring the stuff that I learned back [to L.A.] – communicating or just the way those guys approach thing,s I think that’s something I can bring and kind of teach the younger guys.
You mentioned Isaiah Thomas, he’s lighting up the league this season, and James Harden has always been on everyone’s radar, what did you take away from Isaiah and then James, that’s so different?
Both of them their work ethic, both of those guys are playing 35-40 minutes a game, but they’re always the first and last ones to leave the gym, so if those guys are averaging 30 points a game and they’re putting in extra work, then what makes it so nobody else can do it. How confident they were – both of them come out every night and think they are the best player on the floor and you can see that in the way they play and make shots that they really believe it. And, you can see they are two of the best players we have in the league.
I remember your rookie year, your first game was against the Lakers, and it also happened to be against Kobe Bryant and didn’t you have a jump ball with Kobe? That was your first game, your first time on the floor, and now you’re here! First, what went through your mind when that was your first game against Kobe? And now, I mean, you were probably thinking back then, I can’t imagine the Lakers without Kobe, and now look at the situation you’re in…
It’s crazy how a lot of things, not even just here, but my basketball career has gone full circle. I actually went to school not too far from Milwaukee in high school for a semester, and then my brother went to school in Houston and so I was down there. So, all the places I’ve played are places I’ve been in and thought like, ‘Oh it would be nice to play for the Lakers one day, ‘ and I end up on the Lakers!
(That game against Kobe), that was my first game, and you’re kind of just in awe of everything. The fans, the players on the court, I’m watching Kobe Bryant, and then suddenly the ejection happens, and they’re like, oh Tyler go in, and I was like what am I doing? That moment was kind of like my awe moment in the NBA, you kind of forget everything, like oh what play are we running, and then I was jump ball against Kobe. After that, I kind of started to get going, and yeah I don’t think anybody else had that type of entrance into the league, it actually is weird. I never thought about it coming back and playing for L.A. now.
You mentioned your high school days and that semester you played in Milwaukee…so you were born in Canada, then went to high school in New Jersey, I’d imagine that you didn’t really know anybody when you when you moved to the US for high school or did you? What was growing up in Canada and then coming over to the US to play like?
At the time, it was what you had to do to get noticed. We would play AAU tournaments, and we would play against Julius (Randle), we played against D’Angelo (Russell), all these guys that were a similar age and we’d play well, so I’d think if I’m able to play with these guys, why can’t I get the scholarships and get ranked or anything, so I was like I gotta go over there. I actually went with my older brother who plays at Oregon now, he went to Lake Forest Academy in Chicago, funny story he was doing some visits, and he ended up visiting Wisconsin-Green Bay, and I just went with him on the trip and we were driving and I remember I drove through Milwaukee and I remember thinking like I don’t know anybody who lives in Milwaukee and I ended up going to Milwaukee! I transferred after one semester, just basketball reasons, we weren’t playing any ranked teams, and I wanted to kind of be in more of the spotlight, so I went to Saint Benedict’s Preps for the next three years after that.
You played against Julius and D’Angelo?
I played against Julius a lot. Julius and I played all the way up, AAU stuff. Me and D’Angelo actually played in the high school championship, we had a pretty good team, but it was him Ben Simmons, Kasey Hill, that was one of the best games I’ve ever seen. The last play, I think I hit a three, and then they hit a buzzer beater, and it was like a pandemonium type of game. Me and him were actually talking about it the other day, crazy how many everything came back around.
Did you have the ‘aha’! moment when you were talking about it? Like, man, we were playing in high school and look where we are right now?
One of my first days here and he was like, man do you remember the high school days? And I was like, I kind of totally forgot about that. That was a game where you have the No. 1 pick, the No. 2 pick, myself and probably some other NBA guys and that was a high school championship game. There was almost 10-15 Division I NBA guys. Looking back, it was a crazy game.
Any of us who grew up NBA fans had posters/jerseys in our room, what did you have hanging in your room growing up as a kid?
Vince Carter. I was a big Vince and TMac (Tracy McGrady) fan when I was in Toronto. Of course, when (Steve) Nash was here in Phoenix. He was kind of like the only Canadian guy that was really in the NBA. There were a couple others, but he was back-to-back MVPs, so obviously I looked up to Nash a lot, and I got to know him a little bit with the National team, so probably those two and also Jason Kidd.
You grew up one of seven, six siblings (two older brothers, two younger sisters, and two youngers brothers)…What was it like growing up in your household?
To me, it didn’t really feel like that many, cause that’s what I was used to. At the start, I was kind of the youngest, two older brothers, myself, then me and my sister are probably like four years apart, so it was kind of like waves of kids, we were there and then we went off to high school, and college and then younger ones were there. It’s funny seeing my little brother because he looks just like me, I couldn’t have imagined growing up with a smaller family.
Does Dylan (younger brother) ask you questions about what it’s like to be in the NBA?
All the time! The NBA, obviously you know, you see it on TV, but it’s completely different what you see behind closed doors or what happens in practice. I think he’s definitely good enough to play here or play professionally, for sure, but I just try to give him all the stuff that I wish I knew when I was in college, so I think this summer we will definitely get in the gym. All the stories, the stuff that happens, you would never think with practices, and trades and rumors and he kind of sees it on Twitter and is like alright what do you think it is? He checks in with what’s really going on. It’s fun to be able to go through the whole process with somebody.
Does he ask you about how Luke Walton’s practice compares to where you’ve been before and how do describe Luke’s practice in comparison to others?
Here, there’s a lot more teaching, because we’re a lot younger than Houston. It’s similar to Milwaukee in a sense, we’re going to play, and we’re going to get after it, but it’s going to be a lot of the coaches teaching because we make a lot of mistakes. I would say Houston was more for the older guys, the practices, because the young guys would come in and get extra work and the old guys would come in like, alright we gotta get it moving little bit, and we’re out – 45 minutes at the most, coming here it’s a lot more get after it, development and for me, at this stage in my career, it’s a lot better just because I get to go out there and play every day and that’s the main thing.
Did you ever have a backup plan growing up?
No. I mean when I got to college that was the first time I started thinking about it because they’re like what’s your major and I was like I don’t know, all I do is basketball. I didn’t have a backup plan, I always kind of believed, even though at the time when I was coming up, and I was really young, there was no Canadian guys coming from where I’m from making it and then, once I got a little bit older, there was Tristan (Thompson) and Cory (Joseph) and those guys, and once I saw that I was like I grew up playing against these guys, if they could do it I could do it.
Do you feel a bond with any of those Canadian guys?
We’re all pretty close because we play on the national team together, but a lot of people don’t realize that outside of Kelly Olynyk and Robert Sacre, we all grew up within an hour of each other in the same city. They’re a little bit older, but I grew up playing against them and (Andrew) Wiggins and Jamal Murray, and we’re all from basically the same spot in Toronto, so we have a pretty close bond and relationship just because we all grew up there and there’s only so many Canadian guys in the league.
What about Steve? Has there been more of a bond there?
Steve’s been great because he’s a back-to-back MVP and one of the best point guards to ever play. I remember him reaching out to me in high school, if you ever need anything let me know and let’s work out and stuff so from then on, I’ve built a bond with him, and with the national team, he’s around all the time. We worked out in the summer, and I just try to pick his brain as much as possible even if he’s only there for a day, I try to ask him as many questions and see what he does, obviously still watch film on him. It’s kind of great; I got to play for (Mike) D’Antoni that he strived under and learned some things from D’Antoni that Nash used to do and obviously now I’m in L.A., where he was as well.