Former Syracuse point guard Tyler Ennis was involved with one of the most dramatic seasons in recent Orange history. The first year in the ACC, a school record for most wins to start a season, a number one ranking, an iconic shot against Pittsburgh and more. We spoke with Ennis about his time with the Orange.
Q: What do you remember from your time at Syracuse?
Ennis: "Obviously the basketball I remember everything, as far as the relationships I made with my teammates and coaches. I would say the Dome and just Syracuse in general. Being in Syracuse and the love that they showed us and for all sports in general. It was something I could never imagine until I experienced it. I was only there for a short amount of time, but I have nothing but love. Had a couple Canadians follow after me that kind of shows they did right by me and I had a great experience there. Because when they ask, I give them the green light that yeah, it's the perfect spot."
Q: What's it like to play for Jim Boeheim?
Ennis: "I would say my experience was a little different than a lot of guys. Luckily for me, my situation was I was essentially the only point guard on the roster my year. I had no choice but to play. I was able to play through mistakes, so I didn't get the freshmen treatment that a lot of guys got like Michael Carter-Williams, Dion (Waiters), Rakeem Christmas. For me, I think as a freshman he had this confidence and no matter the situation of the game kind of went into like he already knew what was going to happen and how it was going to happen. For me, that helped me a lot. He kind of walked me through a lot of situations in games where as a freshman I had not experienced that yet on the college level.
"In that run we had, there were games where we could've easily lost. He would come into a timeout and just sit and think. There was something about that. A lot of coaches get in and yell, do the whole college coach tirade where they just scream at you. For him it was all about playing the right way and for us to win because we had the talent for it. I would say that was the biggest thing I took from him. He let me be me. He never restricted me in any way. I have nothing but good things to say from my end about coach and the whole organization."
Q: How much do you follow the program?
Ennis: "I try to watch. I have the notifications on my phone so I know whenever they're playing and when I'm able to I watch. Obviously when I'm overseas and in season, it's a bit harder. I watched the run they had this year. I was proud to be a part of that. I think we all kind of feel the same way. I think any given day, we all try to watch as many games as we can. Just stay involved with it. It's a pretty close knit group, I would say. Not just my team but former players, current players. We all are friendly to each other and make that connection that we all went to Syracuse."
Q: What do you remember about the Pittsburgh shot?
Ennis: "That game, I just remember we played really bad for our standard, the way we were playing. Personally, I didn't think I played well that game at all. We just always found a way to win. We found a way to keep it together. The last play, we drew up a play for CJ (Fair) to get the ball on the court. I wasn't even involved in the play. I was kind of like, 'if CJ doesn't happen, just do what you can.' So I told Jerami if CJ doesn't get it, throw it to me and I'll figure it out. So you see him make a decision quick that CJ wasn't open and kind of get it to me. I just wanted to get as close as I could to the basket with as much time as we had. I knew I could get elevate and get a good look with the guys who were guarding me. Another thing, I wanted to have the last shot too. I didn't want to force anything too early. I think it just kind of naturally that was the play I made. It wasn't really like, 'get it to Tyler and make this three.' It was get CJ the ball and if not Tyler get it.
"It felt great. But it's funny, a lot of the game winners I had before that, the ones that feel great never went in and the ones that just like 'oh I don't know' went in. I had one like that this year, actually. It was the not a game winner buzzer beater, but it was the one that won the game. It didn't feel great, and I'm like 'awe damn' and it ends up going in." I did have confidence that it was going in, but experiences that wasn't ever the case."
Q: What did you say after the shot went in?
"My brother's ask me all the time, even to this day, what I said. I don't remember what I said. I do know they had a weird setup, Pittsburgh. I don't know if they still have it. Normally schools have normal fans and then one section with the students. You know where the students are and they're rowdy and yelling. For some reason it felt like at Pittsburgh the whole lower bowl was all students. They were just heckling us more than normal. More than a normal way. They had their sheets, they were talking about my sister and my mom, at times Trevor's (Cooney) girlfriend. So they were very ruthless and we beat them at home prior to that game. It was kind of just like an F-U to them. They were talking about my shoes and just heckling us the whole entire game, overrated, all that stuff. So when I did make it, it was kind of like an F-U to them because they were quiet all of a sudden. It's a good feeling, obviously, with the history of Syracuse and Pittsburgh.
"You feel that and that's what makes college amazing. It's crazy because it was my first year. I never played Duke but I hated them. I never played Pittsburgh but I hated them. You kind of fall in line with the rivalries and the just how it goes. I think the coaching staff has a good feel on that as well. You can tell when the coaching staff doesn't like the other school and it's like 'OK we have to win this game.'"
Q: What happened down the stretch of that season and into the NCAA Tournament?
Ennis: "Honestly, looking back, I feel like we kind of ran out of gas. The undefeated start was great, history and everything. But I think it kind of wore us down. We were kind of like, we need to regroup and get our stuff back together and continuing to win. We got into these games and always thought we would win them somehow and we did. Then down the stretch we started losing I feel like we should have won. Duke was justifiable on the road. But Georgia Tech at home, Boston College, games we should have clearly won. Dayton in the tournament. I just feel like we ran out of gas. Jerami's (Grant) back was big because he missed a couple of games and I feel like he wasn't the same at the end of the season. But no excuses. We lost games we shouldn't have lost. We were as talented, chemistry was there, we just lost at the wrong time, I would say. No moment, no specific thing that happened."
Q: Do you ever think about what it would have been like to come back for another year?
Ennis: "I think my first year after leaving was the only time I missed it. I missed that lifestyle of being a kid, school and all you have to deal with is basketball and school. My first year in the league (NBA) was very... just not playing. The Suns organization was kind of all over the place. Do I regret it? No. Looking seven years later, I look at my injury history and if that happened in that next year, who knows if I ever get drafted or go to the NBA? The team didn't do the tournament the next year, the sanction or whatever happened. I heard that's because the team wasn't going to make the tournament anyway so it was just take the suspension now.
"But I would have been extremely disappointed if I turned down a first round pick to go back and you don't have a chance to play in the tournament. So no, I don't regret it. It wasn't something I ever thought about or was brought to me that I want to go one and done. It just happened organically. We talked to people in the league and people important in making that decision, and we felt it was time. If feel like I would have risked more than I would have had a chance to gain by going back."
Q: What are you up to now?
Ennis: "This past year I played in Turkey. I tore my achilles in November. I had surgery in December and am about halfway through the rehab process. I'm back state-side rehabbing. Two years ago I broke my leg and a lot of Syracuse fans reached out. But the last two years have been dealing with injury, two injuries, obviously major, but what we're doing is using this time off to work on a bunch of stuff that I really don't get the time to in such a short offseason. I should be back on the court within probably a month and a half, two months. And I'll be ready in September for next season."