Let’s head back to the NBA draft night in 2013.
James Ennis had been selected by the Atlanta Hawks with the 50th overall selection, before his rights were subsequently traded to the recently crowned back-to-back champion Miami Heat. In the blink of an eye, he went from Big West Player of the Year with Long Beach State, to suiting up in Summer League with the Heat, hoping to earn a roster spot next to LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
It’s probably fair to say that the picturesque beaches of Perth, Australia were far from his mind at that point. Salary cap constraints and a need to put food on the table however, led Ennis to become a member of the 2013/14 Perth Wildcats squad.
“When I was drafted there were no two-way NBA contracts, so the first factor that influenced me was money,” Ennis revealed to The Pick and Roll. “I have a very large family and needed money to support 6-8 people, so coming to play in Australia made a lot of sense. It was good basketball and I could make six figures.”
At the time, the NBL was slowly rebuilding, regaining respect and legitimacy in the Australian sporting landscape. Despite the upward trend, you can be sure that the decision to come down under from an NBA draftee fresh out of college would have raised more than a few eyebrows stateside. Looking back, Ennis credits a few key people for steering him away from the traditional European journey, and instead to the western shores of Australia.
“[Then Wildcats CEO] Nick Marvin did a great job of recruiting me and so did coach Trevor Gleeson. They also built a good relationship with my agent [Scott Nichols] and the Miami Heat, so that my progress was tracked before I went back to the NBA.
“Once I decided to play in Australia, coming to Perth was a no brainer. Why wouldn’t I want to play for the best team in the NBL?”
— NBL (@NBL) October 24, 2013
The decision paid dividends for Ennis, who became an immediate fan favourite in Perth for his highlight reel plays and trademark exuberance. Averaging 21.2 points, 7.1 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game, he led Perth to the 2014 NBL championship, making it into All-NBA First Team selection, Wildcats MVP, and a third-place finish in the league MVP voting behind Rotnei Clarke and Chris Goulding.
Ennis is now able to look back fondly on his time in Australia, remembering a year in which he both grew as a player and person.
“My agent was sure that the adjustment for me would be easy. I have no regrets [from my time with Perth]. The only thing I wish I could have achieved would be the league MVP,” Ennis said.
Returning to America
That dominant season in Australia proved to be a pivotal launchpad back to the NBA. Ennis has been able to play a key role over the past four seasons, despite the fact he’s been packing his bags for a new city with relative regularity, which has included Miami, Memphis, New Orleans and Detroit. This isn’t a knock on his value however – Ennis averaged 20.4 minutes per game over his 58 starts and 22o total NBA appearances.
With the obvious step up in talent from the NBL to the NBA, the freedom to dominate offence has diminished. Ennis however, is certain his best is yet to be.
“Defensively I think I have shown I can be an elite stopper. Especially in Memphis, where I had to guard guys like Kawhi Leonard, James Harden and Kevin Durant. I think I have become a much better defender, more consistent shooter and better ball handler [in the NBA]. To take the next step I just have to be more consistent on a nightly basis. I’m working more on the mental aspect of the game, dieting and nutrition. It’s about being a constant professional in my craft.”
— NBA (@NBA) January 15, 2018
Once again on the move, Ennis recently signed a two-year minimum deal with the Houston Rockets, one of the Western Conference’s powerhouse squads. The Rockets won a league-best 65 games last regular season, falling short of the NBA Finals by the barest margin, dropping Game 7 to eventual champions Golden State Warriors. Houston lost key role players Trevor Ariza and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute during free agency, which likely sparked their interest in the defensive-minded Ennis.
“[Houston] had coach Mike D’Antoni and management fly down to LA to pitch me and my agent. They made a great presentation and really sold me on their winning culture. They told me I should start for them at the wing or play 25-28 minutes and have a key role.
“[Houston] felt like the best fit for me. Mike told me if I don’t double my 3-point attempts [this season] he will bench me,” he says with a smile.
On the upcoming Los Angeles Hype Tour
As the NBA season draws near, so to does the upcoming LA Hype Tour, where basketball fans can experience a once in a lifetime opportunity to get up close and personal with some of the world’s greatest athletes. The tour, hosted by Hawthorn Hawks AFL star Tom Mitchell, will give hoop lovers the chance to see up to five NBA contests at both the Staples Center in Los Angeles, and Oracle Arena in Oakland.
An opportunity to have a game day breakfast with Ennis is also part of the package, before his Rockets square off with the Lakers in what will be LeBron James’ first home game with his new franchise.
“Being able to give back to my fans in Australia and Perth specifically attracted me to this opportunity,” Ennis explained. “I’m from LA, so most of my family will be [at Staples] and the arena will be jumping. With LeBron there the Lakers will be a force. It will be a big match-up between two great teams, but I am sure we will silence the crowd and get the win.”
What would game-day breakfast look like, on the morning of this early season blockbuster?
“I usually keep it simple. I like some eggs, avocado and protein shake on game day.”
On NBLxNBA, and bringing the Association to Australia
The momentum for the game in Australia continues to gather steam, with the record breaking NBLxNBA preseason slate of games set to tip off later this month. NBL squads will make the journey across the Pacific for the second year running in the continuation of a basketball partnership that continues to prosper.
The next logical step is to bring the NBA to Australia, but with the NBA schedule already loaded to the brim, is it actually a realistic dream?
“I think having some preseason games in Australia would be a fine idea. Teams play in China and even Europe, so I don’t think it be a big deal early on in the preseason. When I was with Miami we had a preseason game in Brazil.
“I would love to come back and play a game in Perth,” Ennis said.
Now that, would be fun.
*The LA Hype Tour begins on Oct. 18. For more info: http://bit.ly/2BQDHsX