Canadian draft prospect Tyler Ennis works out with Raptors
Tyler Ennis from Syracuse talks to reporters at the 2014 NBA basketball Draft Combine Thursday, May 15, 2014, in Chicago. Ennis did not participate in his scheduled workout Thursday. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, May 29, 2014 5:58PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, May 29, 2014 6:06PM EDT
TORONTO -- Two years ago Tyler Ennis was at the Air Canada Centre practising as part of a national men's basketball team camp. He was still a kid, going into his senior year of high school.
Thursday, the point guard stood in front of a couple dozen members of the media and spoke with poise about how much he'd grown since then, and how he's ready for the next level.
"Yeah, yeah. It felt like so long ago," Ennis said before taking the court for his pre-draft workout for the Raptors. "To look back and see the people I was playing against and the position I'm in now, it's a big jump for me. I feel like I've improved a lot and I've learned a lot along the way and I've had some fun along the way as well.
"I've pretty much enjoyed my time playing basketball for fun. I'm ready for the professional level now."
Nik Stauskas, Khem Birch and Dwight Powell played alongside Ennis at that camp two summers ago in Toronto, a gathering of players so promising, it prompted Canadian coach Jay Triano to call it the most basketball talent he'd ever seen under one roof.
That promise is about to come to fruition. A bumper crop Canadians -- Ennis, Stauskas, Birch and Powell among them -- are eligible for the June 26 NBA draft. Ennis, who starred in his one season at Syracuse, is expected to be the third highest Canadian picked behind Andrew Wiggins and Stauskas. Most mock drafts have Ennis going around No. 16.
The 19-year-old from Brampton, Ont., worked out for the Raptors on Thursday along with fellow Canadians Jordan Bachynski of Calgary (Arizona State), Chadrack Lufile of Burlington, Ont., (Wichita State), and Chad Posthumus of Winnipeg (Morehead State).
"To have so many Canadians first of all in the draft is big for the country. . . it's great for basketball in Canada and it's great for us individually," Ennis said. "And no matter where we end up, (NBA teams will see) Canadians are hard-working and good people off the court, and I think we're all going to find success wherever we end up."
While the Raptors don't expect Ennis to still be on the board when they pick at No. 20, he has some big fans in Canada's NBA franchise.
"Fantastic kid. Very straightforward," Raptors president and GM Masai Ujiri said. "I was just talking about him with coach (Dwane) Casey, he'd just met him. Super kid. Very professional and carries himself the right way.
"I think he'll make a good professional."
Bachynski, meanwhile, was practically pinching himself after his workout in Toronto. He said while some players get caught up in the monotony of travelling from team to team in the rigours of the pre-draft workouts, he was loving the process.
"I was in the airport for eight or nine hours yesterday because all of my flights got cancelled, but you've just go to embrace the moment. How often do you get to do this? Not only how often, but how many people get to take part in this stuff? It's a dream come true," Bachynski said. "I'm in a very special situation because June is a great month for me. I have the draft and I also have a baby due in a few days. I'm so excited."
The 7-2 centre from Calgary and his wife Malia, a former volleyball player, are expecting a baby June 8.
"I love that I have her there for me, she was an athlete so she knows the time it takes to be excellent at something," Bachynski said. "It's just a testament to the kind of woman she is, she told me if she goes into labour, go to my next workout. Don't come home. Baby is going to be there when I get back."
At 24, Bachynski is the oldest player in the draft.
"I'm one of those young guys," Bachynski said, when someone pointed out that fact. "My body's young, I've got an old head."
He was plagued by injuries in high school and was forced to take time off to recover from surgeries. He was late to start college, spending two years in Miami on his Mormon mission.
"It was the most valuable experience for me," Bachynski said of his time in Florida. "Guys tell me all the time that it was the dumbest thing I could have done, to take two years off of basketball. I barely touched a basketball in those two years, but I wouldn't be the basketball player I am today. I learned huge life lessons, I learned the importance of hard work, and perseverance."
Bachynski said his age makes him better prepared to go pro.
"Definitely. I'm married. I have a dog," he said, prompting laughter from reporters. "I've got a kid on the way. I'm not one of those guys who's going out and partying on the weekends. I'm sitting watching Netflix. I'm a guy you don't have to worry about off the court."
While Ujiri has said he won't draft a Canadian player just for the sake of it, he doesn't believe there would be added pressure on a Canadian playing in Toronto.
"No concerns at all," he said. "I think this has been a good process for the Canadian kids, I think the last few years, a kid has gone No. 1 (Anthony Bennett to the Cleveland Cavaliers last season), kids have played in the league, so I don't think it's anything new any more for them."
The Raptors have three picks in the draft -- 20, 37 and 59. While Ujiri isn't ruling out the possibility of making a trade to move up, he's preparing to remain where he is.
"The one thing I say about the draft is we all fall in love with it the day of, a couple days before," said Ujiri. "I never let my (staff) or myself get hopeful that we're going to move up. We want to study 20 and figure out 20. If you're hoping for (a trade), there are 29 other teams that are hoping for the same, and 29 other teams that are trying to do other deals. I've been heartbroken a couple times. I've learned not to rely on that at all."