At the conclusion of Long Beach States 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, Monsons 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 its because he worked harder than other guys to get there, Monson said. His athleticism has really flourished and hes got length and space and I think theres 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 NBAs 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, 'Weve 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 thats 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 hes 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 isnt 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 hes improved in a year has been nothing short of remarkable, Monson said. "Hes 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 thats 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 Im a competitor; Im going to go my hardest every day, every game to show that Ive worked hard to play at this level.
Added Monson: I think that was one of the big things they wanted to see. Weve got to see when those guys arent around and defenses start keying in on him and hes the main guy. And that happened to him this year and it took him time to adjust, especially when youve got Keala (King) and Tony (Freeland) and youve 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 its his ball-handling and mid-range game. However, those are aspects of his game he is looking forward to developing.
At my JC, thats all I used to shoot was mid-range and fadeaways, but when I got here I didnt 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 doesnt 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 hes 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 doesnt click right away and kids just get thrown to the side or out on the street and heres a kid that the system didnt give up on and he didnt give up on the system. And hes been rewarded now.