Heat's James Ennis embraces latest opportunity

Sun SentinelJuly 17, 2014 

— James Ennis nearly needed a full day to share the news.

Sure, his family via a third party knew he had finally signed a deal with the Miami Heat. They had just yet to hear it from Ennis himself.

After being signed Monday, he was unable to hop on the phone until the next day because he was busy completing a late-night game with the Heat in the NBA Summer League.

"After I signed, I had to come straight here (to the arena)," Ennis said. "I got a chance to talk to my Dad (Tuesday). He called me and I gave him the good news. He was very excited. It just reminded me how far I came from and I never gave up."

The moment made Ennis realize he fulfilled a lifelong goal of playing in the NBA. He grew up telling his two younger brothers he would serve as a role model once he made it. Nothing has changed, except he is doing everything possible to remain in the league after being shipped overseas last summer.

He was originally drafted by the Heat in the second round of the 2013 draft.

"I wasn't really disappointed," Ennis said of playing overseas. "I could have stayed in the D-League. I just knew I had to take another route."

That route meant visiting foreign soil for the first time. The decision was easy to play elsewhere instead of the NBDL. He made a higher salary playing for Perth Wildcats in the Australian League than the $25,000 offered to most D-League players.

In the end, it was more than just about the money.

It allowed Ennis opportunity to grow. He lived five minutes from the beach. He played in front of large crowds every night. The experience was much more beneficial than playing in Sioux Falls, where the Heat's NBDL affiliate is based.

"My confidence grew when I went overseas," Ennis said. "I'm glad I went overseas to experience a different lifestyle. It just made me focus. ... Just the environment, it was like paradise. Twenty thousand (fans) in the gym every game, you can't beat that."

Ennis scored 25 points in his Perth debut. From there, the maturation process continued. He led Perth to the league championship and was named the team's most valuable player. The Heat welcomed a groomed player when he returned for summer league, with Ennis becoming a better shooter and defender.

"What's not to like about Ennis," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "He was a four-year guy in college. Coming out last summer, we loved his potential but we thought he could really use another year of development and we were able to help him find a great place in Australia where he was expected to have a bigger role than he was used to in terms of making plays and scoring and he grew into that role."

Ennis' confidence this summer has impressed the Heat the most. He averaged a team-high 17 points and 5.8 rebounds in the Orlando league before being slowed by a strained groin in Las Vegas.

"When he came back (from Australia), he was a much more confident and mature basketball player," Spoelstra said. "I think as a life experience, he grew emotionally as well, so you're seeing a much more confident player this summer. He shoots the ball with range, extremely athletic, he's active, plays with a motor. We like all those things."

The key for Ennis now is remaining unsatisfied. He said his "heart skipped a beat" when hearing the news of his first contract but since has refused to celebrate. That won't come until he becomes a consistent player in the NBA.

"I took a lot of routes to get here," Ennis said. "It's not over yet. It's just the first step. I still got to prove myself."

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