James Ennis' steady improvement should help pave the way to a solid future in the NBA.
By ABBEY MASTRACCO FS West
At the conclusion of Long Beach State’s Big West championship tournament run,
James Ennis dejectedly told the media that he felt that he let his team down. His coach, Dan Monson, defended his star forward, saying that if Ennis is guilty of caring too much, Monson’s proud of that.
Ennis and Monson gathered their things and left the Honda Center.
But there was still one question that remained: Where does Ennis go next?
Likely, the NBA – but only if he continues to work for it.
“If he get to the NBA it’s because he worked harder than other guys to get there,” Monson said. “His athleticism has really flourished and he’s got length and space and I think there’s a lot of things that will fit him very well about the next level.”
Ennis, the Big West Player of the Year, showed up on the NBA’s radar in the 2011-12 season, his first with The Beach. He became a complimentary piece to former players Casper Ware, Larry Anderson and T.J. Robinson.
Scouts in attendance for the other three took notice of Ennis' skills.
“Last year, scouts came to see Larry and Casper and those guys, but the NBA people would leave talking about James,” Monson said. “And the big thing was, 'We’ve got to see him next year.'”
The last time Long Beach State had a player selected in the NBA Draft was in 1998 when center Andrew Betts was taken by the Charlotte Hornets with the 50th pick. Ennis may well become the first player in 15 years to represent The Beach and if that’s the case, his coach feels that there would be no better representative.
“I would feel that it was well-earned,” Monson said. “Here is a kid that has come in and worked and improved every step of the way to get where is and I think he’s earned every bit of it.”
In his senior season, Ennis became the go-to guy who was tasked with replacing a lineup full of stars. While his personality isn’t that of an outspoken leader, he played the role, leading Long Beach with 16.5 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. Ennis also led the team in blocks (43), steals (58) and free throw percentage (.834) while also playing defensive stopper on the other end.
The 6-foot-7, 200-pound Ennis, a forward out of Ventura College, has continued to improve at every level he has played at – a trait that has impressed.
“Just how much he’s improved in a year has been nothing short of remarkable,” Monson said. "He’s one of those kids that probably was a better junior college player than high school player and a better college player than junior college player and could be one of those that’s a better pro.
“His game is more suited for the NBA than probably even this one.”
Ennis was by far one of the most athletic players in the Big West this season, and at times, was one of the most athletic players on the floor playing one of the most brutal non-conference schedules in the country. He played well on the road, facing some of the top talent in the country in teams like Syracuse, Ohio State, North Carolina and Arizona.
“This year was a whole new challenge for me,” Ennis said. “It just shows that I’m a competitor; I’m going to go my hardest every day, every game to show that I’ve worked hard to play at this level.”
Added Monson: “I think that was one of the big things they wanted to see. We’ve got to see when those guys aren’t around and defenses start keying in on him and he’s the main guy. And that happened to him this year and it took him time to adjust, especially when you’ve got Keala (King) and Tony (Freeland) and you’ve got other offensive people to kind of help him at Christmas. James really flourished there as we hit league.”
At small forward, Ennis’ athleticism certainly projects at the next level, but his ability to guard multiple positions, knock-down outside shots and a strong ability to distribute are the qualities that the scouts are the highest on.
There are question marks in his game, as there are with any player, and for Ennis it’s his ball-handling and mid-range game. However, those are aspects of his game he is looking forward to developing.
“At my JC, that’s all I used to shoot was mid-range and fadeaways, but when I got here I didn’t do it much,” Ennis said. “I have the ability to do it, I just have to keep on working at it.”
Ennis will participate in the NABC All-Star game and the slam dunk contest next week and is hoping to use those as last-chance opportunities to show what he can do in competition.
After the Final Four, he will return to Long Beach to complete his degree in Africana Studies. Ennis doesn’t have an agent yet, his dad and older brother are taking care of that for now.
Ennis would prefer to quietly hone his game while completing his degree.
“I think he’s really the epitome of that exact phrase, ‘student-athlete’ because he really was a kid that school came hard for and even in junior college he struggled. And then when he got an opportunity to go Division I it really focused him academically,” Monson said. “And sometimes all of it doesn’t click right away and kids just get thrown to the side or out on the street and here’s a kid that the system didn’t give up on and he didn’t give up on the system. And he’s been rewarded now.”