James Ennis, Myck Kabongo the Heat’s focus in summer play
MIAMI — They call him “Da Truth.’’
Actually, he calls himself that.
James Ennis’ Twitter handle is @JamesDa_Truth. When asked Saturday about it, Ennis fessed up.
“That’s my own nickname,” said Ennis, a swingman who was taken with the No. 50 pick in the second round of the June 27 draft by Atlanta and then traded to Miami. “I just thought of it just to make a Twitter. I didn’t have a Twitter so I just thought about that name.’’
If Ennis keeps developing, maybe his self-given nickname will become more popular. After averaging 10.0 points for Long Beach State as a junior, he broke loose to average 16.5 last season as a senior while being named Big West Player of the Year.
The 6-foot-7 Ennis is one of two intriguing rookies who will play for the Heat in the Orlando Summer League, which runs Sunday through Friday, and the NBA Summer League, with the Heat playing July 13-22 in Las Vegas. The other is 6-3 point guard Myck Kabongo, who was undrafted as a sophomore out of Texas after many thought he would go in the second round.
“Everybody’s journey is different,’’ said Kabongo, whose draft stock was hurt by being suspended by the NCAA last season for 23 games due to accepting illegal benefits and only playing in 11. “I don’t see it as a road block or anything. Some people see it as a blessing in disguise for me.’’
Ennis and Kabongo will try to make a Heat team next season that figures to have few open roster spots. Trying to show he’s worthy of keeping a spot is center Jarvis Varnado, the only player from Miami’s championship team participating in the summer. Varnado has a non-guaranteed contract for next season.
The Heat summer players practiced at AmericanAirlines Arena for three days before heading to Orlando after Saturday’s workout. Miami coach Erik Spoelstra has liked so far what he’s seen from Ennis.
“When we watched James on film (before the draft), he jumped off the screen with his athleticism and his length,’’ said Spoelstra, who will observe summer play from the stands while assistant Dan Craig coaches the team. “Obviously, we like those type of players that can play multiple positions. He has very good potential in terms of his 3-point shooting. These things all need to be developed. He can cover ground.’’
After Ennis was acquired by the Heat late in the evening on draft day, he said Spoelstra called him at 8 a.m. PDT the following day. Ennis said was “surprised’’ by the call and “didn’t recognize his voice,’’ but was thrilled once he learned it was the two-time champion coach.
Ennis watched nearly every minute of last month’s Finals in which Miami beat San Antonio in seven games. But he never envisioned he would end up with the Heat a week after they hoisted the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
“I didn’t know they were going to trade for me,’’ Ennis said of the Heat, who had entered the draft without a selection. “I’m just thankful to get this opportunity.’’
Ennis, who averaged 6.7 rebounds as a 49ers senior, is a flashy player and he looks that part with the dark glasses he donned for his Twitter avatar. But Ennis said he’s actually a mild-mannered fellow.
“Shy off the court,’’ Ennis, who is from Ventura, Calif., said of his personality. “I need to get more vocal on the court. That’s my main thing because in college I didn’t really talk a lot. So that’s what I need to work on.’’
That’s not a problem with Kabongo, who became the Longhorns’ starting point guard as a freshman in 2011-12 after being highly recruited out of high school. But Kabango ran into problems last year when the NCAA ruled he had received impermissible benefits from agent Rich Paul, who also represents Heat star LeBron James. The benefits were said to have come when Kabongo was considering leaving Texas after his freshman season, and Kabongo was charged with having lied to NCAA investigators.
After an initial recommendation he be suspended for the entire 2012-13 season, Kabongo’s penalty was reduced to 23 games. He also had to repay $475, which went to charity.
“The whole thing was me just trying to be a basketball player,’’ said Kabongo, who grew up in Toronto but finished high school in the Las Vegas area. “It was never to break any rules. That’s the first and foremost. There’s more details to the story. I just don’t want to get into all that.’’
What Kabongo is concerned about now is impressing the Heat. He showed potential when he averaged 14.6 points and 5.5 assists in those 11 games last season for Texas, including scoring 31 points and handing out eight assists in an overtime win over Oklahoma.
“Big upside,’’ Spoelstra said. “A lot of potential. And, look, our organization has a history of uncovering guys that just need the right fit, the right timing, the right place.’’
It might not hurt Kabongo having James on his side. Considering they share an agent, the Heat star has offered encouragement.
“He just said work hard wherever you go,’’ Kabongo said of conversations with James. “He just told me to work hard and leave it all out there.’’
Because he only has signed a summer contract, Kabongo is free to join any NBA team for training camp. The Heat, though, hold Ennis’ rights.
Asked if he might be willing to play overseas next season, which would enable Miami to hold onto those rights, Ennis said that’s in “God’s hands.’’ If Ennis were to come to training camp, the Heat would have to let him go if he doesn’t make the 15-man opening-day roster.
In the meantime, Ennis is focusing on the summer. So does he plan to show the Heat he is indeed “Da Truth?’’
“Oh, no,’’ said Ennis, whose nickname definitely doesn’t fit his modesty. “I’m going to come in a role player.’’
Chris Tomasson can be reached at email@example.com
or on Twitter @christomasson.