SYRACUSE Syracuse mens basketball coach Jim Boeheim has been the master of the understatement in his 34 years as the Orange head man.
Hes never been one to heap much praise on players, especially in the preseason, and usually does not expound on individual accomplishments.
So when Boeheim talks about freshman point guard Tyler Ennis in glowing terms, you know he believes SU has something special in the 6-foot-2 Canadian rookie.
Ennis was the center of attention Friday as the Orange held its annual Media Day at the Carmelo K. Anthony Center. He hasnt even played an official second for SU, yet Ennis is expected to carry a huge load trying to replace Michael Carter-Williams, who was a first-round NBA draft pick of the Philadelphia 76ers.
Boeheim called Ennis probably the most well-prepared freshman point guard Ive ever had. Hes just so steady, so smart with the ball and he plays well beyond his years.
Told about Boeheims effusive remarks, Ennis said, I know coach is giving me a lot of responsibility and I believe I can handle whatever he wants me to do. Im just trying to fit into coachs system right now, and do the things I need to do to make this team successful. I realize the spotlight will be on me a lot, but its really about the team.
The precocious Ennis has already shown what he can do during SUs late-summer four-game exhibition trip to Canada. Ennis started all four games and led the team in minutes played and assists. His 10-point scoring average also ranked second.
To be able to get him in there with the six practices we had and then the four games was huge for his confidence, Boeheim said. He really plays like a veteran because of his great court sense and the way he knows how to run a team.
Ennis also helped Team Canada to a sixth-place finish, its best ever, in the FIBA Under 19 World Championships last summer. He led the tournament in scoring (20.8), while averaging four rebounds and 2.8 assists.
Ennis said all of the extra work has already helped him prepare for a grueling season ahead.
Ive put in the time and the work, and now its almost here, Ennis said. I realize that Ive got an opportunity that most freshmen dont have. Taking over a team is huge. To know that coach and the players have faith in me just makes me more confident I can do the job.
Reshirt sophomore shooting guard Trevor Cooney, who will start in the backcourt alongside Ennis, said the two have already formed a unique bond. We meshed as soon as he got here, Cooney said. Trevor reminds me a lot of Michael in that he always has his head up looking for an open man. Hes really fun to play with because he knows when to get you the ball in the right spots.
A native of Brampton, Ontario, Ennis played his final two years of high school ball at St. Benedicts Prep in New Jersey. As a senior, he averaged 20 points, 6.1 assists and 5.2 rebounds in guiding St. Benedicts to the National High School Invitational championship game.
He was rated 20th overall and fifth among points guards on the 2013 ESPN 100 list.
Former SU point guard Gerry McNamara, who helped recruit Ennis, said he knew the Orange were getting a special kid when he signed last year.
From the first time I saw Tyler, I could tell he was way ahead of the curve, said McNamara, now one of Boeheims assistants. Hes certainly one of the most intelligent players Ive ever coached. His communication skills are first-rate. Hes a pass-first point guard, which his teammates love, and he is a student of the game.
Ennis said he realizes the burden placed on his broad shoulders. Its an honor, he said. To be able to put on that uniform and play in front of those huge crowds in the Carrier Dome. You couldnt ask for anything more.
As far as handling the rigors of the Atlantic Coast Conference in SUs inaugural year, Ennis said hes not worried. My conditioning throughout the summer has been great, he said. The training staff here really knows how to get the most out of your physical ability.
But McNamara insisted that Enniss strength is his mental awareness and toughness. A lot of freshmen are ready physically. Tyler is one who is really ready emotionally as well.
As for Ennis wearing down under the pressure of having the ball in his hands so much, Boeheim said that should not be a factor. Kids today are used to playing all day, every day, he said. Hell get rest when he needs it. Otherwise, we want him on the court.
SU opens the regular season at home against Cornell on Nov. 8.