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Well-traveled Ennis finds a good home at Villanova

Dylan Ennis starred in AAU ball in native Canada, but made several other stops before becoming a big part of Wildcats' success.

Dylan Ennis worked hard over the summer to become an integral part of Villanova's success this season. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)
Dylan Ennis worked hard over the summer to become an integral part of Villanova's success this season. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)Read moreYONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

NEARLY 2 decades ago, in a far-off gym in ice-cold Canada, Dylan Ennis never wanted his teammates to know he was the coach's son. He wanted to be like all the other kids under the AAU basketball roof.

So, when he got a hyphenated surname on the back of his jersey when he grew older, representing his stepfather, Tony McIntyre, and his mother, Suzette Ennis, he made an executive decision. The hyphen was too long on the back. It wasn't shorter like some of his teammates'.

He and his brother, Tyler Ennis - of Brampton, Ontario - decided to keep their mother's maiden name to retain normalcy. Originally, it was just to fit in. Eventually, it turned into one of the most popular surnames in recent Canadian college basketball history. Dylan and Tyler Ennis wanted the world to know they were painstaking players. Not only the coach's sons.

"It's hard growing up with your father being the coach," said Dylan, a 23-year-old junior guard for No. 7 Villanova.

"You have the perks of having all this knowledge of basketball, and he's always in the gym first, so you can get your shots up, but everyone scrutinizes the coach's son. If he does something wrong, you're blamed for it. We grew up and we wanted everyone to know we were hardworking basketball players. We weren't getting what we had because our father was the coach."

Though Tyler Ennis was the more popular name after a one-and-done stint at Syracuse and now in the NBA with the Phoenix Suns, Dylan who was the better player at an early age. He and Cleveland Cavaliers forward Tristan Thompson were the "1-2 punch in Canada back then," McIntyre said, referencing Dylan Ennis' prowess from third to eighth grades.

And the Ennises' stepfather would know - McIntyre is a premier AAU coach in Canada. His program produced back-to-back No. 1 NBA selections in Minnesota Timberwolves Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins, and shaped more than 40 Division I college basketball players.

McIntyre's wisdom and Dylan's abilities made the family make an important decision: Dylan Ennis had to go to high school in the United States.

"What happened was, he left Toronto and went to New York City, and was living with my wife's brother and was attending Wings Academy in the Bronx," McIntyre recalled. "But the travel back and forth was getting to be way too much for him for his daily travel. He lived in Long Island and went to the Bronx and traveled for 2 years. It was wearing on him . . . and he transferred to Lake Forest Academy in Chicago."

In ninth grade, he was a measly 4-9, and by time he transferred to Lake Forest, he was an underrecruited-for-his-age junior, though he grew to be a stockier 6-2. He decided to attend Rice University, where he set a school freshman record in assists and was named to the Conference USA all-freshman team.

But Ennis, who had traveled hours a day in high school to play basketball, and was now thousands of miles from his family in Canada, couldn't stand the distance. He wanted to get closer to his folks, so they could see him play. That led him to Villanova.

And it's Ennis' experience, his maturation through basketball, that has made him so essential to the Wildcats' program. He described it as one of his best attributes.

"I've been on teams where I've sat on the bench, I've been on teams where I've been a star, and, more than basketball, it's more of being a man," Ennis said. "You get experience from everything you do. It helped me, as well, on the basketball court. I know what to expect in every situation. My experience is definitely one of my strongest traits."

But gaining experience took longer than expected. After sitting out 2012-13 because of NCAA transfer rules, he made a splash in the 2013 Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament in the Bahamas, helping Villanova dispose of No. 2 Kansas. And then, instantly, it was all but over.

Ennis' spectacular start fizzled. He ended up shooting an abysmal 30.1 percent from three-point range and produced only 5.1 points per contest. His minutes shrunk by the game, and he was no longer a factor in the Wildcats' winning ways. He only played 6 minutes in Villanova's Round of 32 loss to Connecticut in the NCAA Tournament.

So, he spent last summer in the gym. Coach Jay Wright was consistently in his ear, reminding him of his potential as a player. That was the difference-maker the guard needed. He had found a home, and, for the first time in his career, he said he had the confidence "to be a killer" on the court.

"He really opened himself up this summer and worked on [being a complete player]," Wright said. "He's been one of our best defensive guards, [was] our leading scorer, has a great assist-to-turnover ratio, and he's still open to getting better. I'm really psyched about that. He's a great guy to coach because he's having success and he wants to get better."

Now, Ennis has started all 21 games for the 19-2 Wildcats (6-2 Big East). He is averaging 9.7 points for a team that has six players averaging from 13.3 to 9.6. The Wildcats play Marquette (10-11, 2-7) at 7 p.m. tomorrow at the Wells Fargo Center.

"This is the first place I've been, outside of Canada that I've stayed for more than 2 years. It's tough traveling all the time," Ennis said. "But that's the journey of my life. I learned a lot from every place I've been to - New York, mental toughness; Illinois, learned how to play the game of basketball; Rice, I had a great freshman year, being able to come in and run the team.

"This a great program," he continued. "And everyone knows this program for the guards they produce. I just want to be the next great Villanova guard."