Ten weeks after the injury, Tyler Ennis is back home rehabilitating with Canada Basketball’s staff. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Ennis hopes to rebuild a better version of himself after gruesome injury

MISSISSAUGA, Ont. — Brittany was the first member of Canadian basketball’s big Ennis family to hear the news. “Hey, prayers for your brother,” someone texted the 19-year-old.

Why prayers? she worried.

Then someone sent her the video link.

Tyler Ennis was just three regular-season games into his EuroLeague career with storied Turkish club Fenerbahce in October when he suffered a gruesome broken leg. The play seemed innocuous enough. The look on opponent Malcolm Armstead’s face said the injury was anything but.

The 24-year-old from Brampton, Ont., was driving to the hoop when he collided with Buyukcekmece’s Armstead, and their legs seemed to become entangled. Ennis falls, and when he lifts his left leg, from the middle his shin down it hangs limply like an empty sock. Armstead looks away in horror. The video is not for the squeamish. It comes with a “graphic” warning. Ennis still hasn’t watched it. He says he might never.

He called and talked to his panicked sister right after the injury.

“Brittany was crying, she said ‘Your leg!’ (and) I’m like ‘I’m fine now,’” Ennis said.

Ten weeks after the injury, the six-foot-three guard is back home rehabilitating with Canada Basketball’s staff.

Ennis walks into The Movement Lab in Mississauga for treatment and a workout with a slight limp. He has a knobbly scar below his knee a couple inches wide where surgeons in Istanbul inserted a rod down the length of his tibia from knee to ankle.

He scrolls through his phone to the Xray image of his industrial-strength leg. There are five screws for reinforcement that will eventually be removed.

“I’ve been walking for awhile, I still have a little limp … but by the time I leave him I’ll be a lot better,” he said, with a nod toward Canada Basketball athletic therapist Krisjon Vargas, who kneads the muscles around Ennis’s break for the better part of an hour.

Ennis played four seasons in the NBA, for Phoenix, Milwaukee, Houston and the Los Angeles Lakers since he was drafted 18th overall by the Suns out of Syracuse University in 2014. He saw Fenerbahce as a fresh start.

“Me and my agent talked and it was an opportunity for me to really take control of my career, (after) playing on teams where I didn’t get to play as much, or politics or whatever the case may be,” Ennis said. “My agent said going over there was a chance to really show for a full season what I could do, compared to playing 10 or 15 games in a row, and then not playing, just like the inconsistency in minutes … so, go over there and play well and have the option to stay there, or come back (to the NBA) and kind of take control. I was more interested in that rather than playing the waiting game that free agency is.”

There’s no timetable for his return to Fenerbahce, which leads the Turkish league at 15-1.

The injury, Ennis said, initially felt like he’d been kicked in the leg.

“But I’ve seen Paul George and those guys do it, and I’ve seen the trainer run out and hold the leg when it’s broken,” Ennis said — George suffered a tib-fib fracture in the summer of 2014. ”I saw (our trainer) and before he even said ‘Are you OK?’ he was holding my leg, and I thought ’ugh.’”

Maurizio Gherardini, Fenerbahce’s general manager, was in the arena that night. He and the entire team went straight to the hospital after the game.

“Tyler had gained everyone’s appreciation in a very short period of time with his approach to the game and by showing the person he is,” said Gherardini, former Raptors vice-president and assistant GM. ”The injury was frustrating for different reasons. It happened in an unusual way. It happened to a young player who was getting better game by game.

“The game right before that one, we had won in Kaunas, against Zalgiris, one of the European historical powerhouses, and Tyler had been instrumental in that road win, with a very effective fourth-quarter play. It happened when we all were feeling he was the right fit for our puzzle.”

Armstead, an American who played at Wichita State with Raptors point guard Fred VanVleet and Canadian Nick Wiggins, also visited Ennis in hospital.

“People were saying ‘Oh, let’s take a picture,’ and he said ‘Naw,’ he just wanted to check on me, make sure I was OK,” Ennis said. ”I have a lot of respect for him for that.”

Ennis called his dad Tony McIntyre after the injury. His dad, alerted by Brittany, was already at an airport gate waiting to board an overseas flight when Tyler called. When he woke from surgery, McIntyre — director of basketball operations for the Athlete Institute academy in Orangeville, Ont. — was beside his bed.

Ennis, who made a point of not looking at his leg until after surgery, is recovering under the guidance of Canada Basketball athletic therapist Sam Gibbs. He has physiotherapy six days a week, lifts three days a week, does work in the pool, and is on the court three days a week.

“Now that I’m able to stand, I can do dribbling drills, free throws … ” Ennis said.

At the Movement Lab, Ennis goes through an hour-long workout of squats and kettle bell work with Karamvir Gill, an athletic performance coach with Canada Basketball. The Movement Lab is a training and therapy haven for Canadian players when they’re in town. Signed basketballs and shoes line one cinder block wall, including Sim Bhullar’s size 19s.

A chef is cooking in the facility’s small kitchen, preparing a couple days worth of meals for Ennis.

He looks at his injury as a chance to rebuild a better version of himself.

“That’s the plan,” he said. “It’s helped me a lot just taking care of my body, and realizing what I need. I can feel a lot more with the injury. I can feel: OK, my hamstrings are tight. Or: my lower back is tight.

“And right away when I got home we talked about nutrition for healing and when I get back healthy. So we hired a chef (Evan White), which was something I always wanted to do. I’m taking this time away from basketball for a bunch of stuff I wanted to focus on with my body, strengthening my legs or core or whatever … that I had never got around to it as far as really diving into it.”

He sees a proverbial silver lining in his injury. He and girlfriend Ericka Gilbert have a daughter Jordan, who’s a year and a half. And early Monday morning, Gilbert gave birth to a second daughter they named Tyler.

“My girlfriend likes Istanbul, we had a good time there, but she said the silver lining is the baby gets to be Canadian as opposed to the complications of having the baby over there,” Ennis said.

He was able to spend a rare Christmas with family.

“I try to look at things like that, things I’m not able to do during the season ever basically until I stop playing, things like going to my brother’s games, my sister’s games, every-day stuff. I try to take advantage of that,” he said.

Ennis has two older brothers — Dylan, who plays professionally in Andorra, and Brandon, a coach with the Athlete Institute. Brittany played basketball. There’s a 13-year-old sister and nine-year-old brother who both play, plus another brother who’s just three.

“It’s good having family around, real support,” Ennis said.

While he has no timeline for a return, he says his recovery is ahead of schedule.

“They told me ’You’ll be walking by this time,’ and I was walking before, and whatnot,” he said. ”I feel really good … And being home and away from the team, it’s easier for me to lock in and focus on myself and what I need to do to get back.”

Gherardini has no doubt Ennis “will bounce back from this nasty injury.

“He’s dedicated to basketball, he’s a student of the game and he has a very positive approach to life overall which helps as well,” he said. ”As he got injured he was the one smiling and cheering us up. That tells you how strong his desire can be to make it back at full strength. We are all cheering for him as we would all love to see him on the court before our season is over: it would be the best reward to his dedication and his passion for the game.”

Just Posted

Alberta government to partially backstop new $2 billion dollar bitumen upgrader

CALGARY — The Alberta government is providing a $440 million loan guarantee… Continue reading

Local artists are in the running for Alberta Country Music Awards, held Sunday in Red Deer

Tickets are available to the ceremony at the Sheraton hotel

RCMP seeking suspect in school bus collision and car jacking

Two children suffered minor injuries in collision on Tuesday near Springbrook around 8 a.m.

Smaller, more affordable, lots wanted in Red Deer’s Evergreen neighbourhood

Council approves first reading of requested lot-size changes

Political shifts, sales slump cast shadow over gun industry

When gunmakers and dealers gather this week in Las Vegas for the… Continue reading

New Canada Food Guide nixes portion sizes, promotes plant-based proteins

Guide no longer lists milk and dairy products as a distinct food group

B.C. animators land Oscar nominations

‘Animal Behaviour’ by Vancouver’s David Fine and Alison Snowden among several Canadians on the short list

Canadian talent abound on newly revamped Vancouver Whitecaps squad

VANCOUVER — The Vancouver Whitecaps may need to stock up on maple… Continue reading

China demands US drop Huawei extradition request with Canada

China detained two Canadians on Dec. 10 in an apparent attempt to pressure Canada to release Meng

Rugby Canada Hall of Fame a family affair for hard-nosed forward Hans de Goede

Hans de Goede, a hard-nosed lock forward who captained Canada at the… Continue reading

5 burning questions ahead of the Oscar nominations

NEW YORK — The Oscars still don’t have a host, but on… Continue reading

‘Bao,’ ‘Animal Behaviour,’ ‘Weekends’ among Canadian Oscar nominees

LOS ANGELES — Several Canadians have landed Oscar nominations. The category for… Continue reading

Hollywood announces 2019 Oscar nominations

Netflix has scored its first best picture nomination, something the streaming giant has dearly sought

Opinion: Faith in immigration must be preserved

Canada has a deserved reputation for extending its arms to newcomers, but… Continue reading

Most Read