Paulo Kennedy, Pagemasters
If you want to see how James Ennis became such a sweet-shooting swingman, take a time machine back to his childhood years in Ventura, California, and visit the court in the Westview Village housing project where he grew up.
“Me and my little brother, we just always played, all the time, and so the nets always got ripped,” he laughed.
“We had to tell them once a week to put up a new net because it’s hard to shoot without a net – we liked to see the ball go swish.”
Ennis’ rise from a local junior college student to NBA draftee in just two years is a remarkable story, but it’s a tale of hard work that started long ago.
The Ennis family “moved around a lot” and James attended three different high schools in his freshman year alone.
Eventually they settled back at Westview Village and, while James said he “grew up skateboarding, playing soccer and riding bikes” on that little court with weak nets, basketball became king – although it would be some time until he did.
“It took a while. I was skinny and short, I didn’t get my height until I was a sophomore at high school,” he said.
That struggle to compete with bigger players created a work ethic that would see Ennis soar above those around him.
“Everybody has talent, so you’ve got to separate yourself," he said.
“I just put a lot of work in. Because we had that basketball court in my project I just stayed there a lot and worked on my game.”
Few noticed, though, and Ennis attracted little interest from big-name colleges, instead attending nearby community colleges at Oxnard and Ventura.
And while his performances got the attention of division one school Long Beach State University, there was more hard work to be done.
“My first year at Long Beach State I knew I had to play a role. Because I was playing with five seniors I knew I wouldn’t get the ball a lot,” he said.
“After that year was over I knew I had a big role coming up, so me and my bro Khalid just got in the gym right after the season, twice a day we just shot so much, working on my stamina.”
Not surprisingly, Ennis took college basketball by storm in his senior year, claiming the Big West Conference Player of the Year award and getting an invite to the NCAA All-Star game where he top-scored.
Just 25 months after he was attending his local junior college, Ennis was drafted by the Atlanta Hawks and immediately traded to the NBA champions, the Miami Heat.
But while the 23-year-old is new on the NBA radar, “The Show” had been on his mind the whole time.
“Ever since I was little and I started playing the game I would tell my brothers, ‘I'm going to get drafted and I'm going to keep working until it comes true’,” he said.
Sent to the NBL to improve his game before that dream is realised, Ennis said he was happy he “came to a good home and a good team”.
“The guys on the team are good guys. Ever since I got here they have treated me so well and made me feel like I am at home already,” he said.
The man his Wildcats teammates call “Jimbo” might have travelled to the other side of the world, but his work ethic hasn’t changed a bit.
“I put a lot of shots up, I shoot before practice, I shoot after practice,” he said, admitting there is one small difference.
“The nets don’t tear over here.”
You can watch James Ennis against Sydney this Friday night on ONE, and tune into Ten on Sunday at 2pm to see him take on the Tigers. You can also watch every game on NBL.TV.