DED­I­CATED RE­BUILD

Cana­dian Tyler En­nis hopes to be bet­ter than ever as pro bas­ket­ball player af­ter suf­fer­ing grue­some in­jury, writes Lori Ewing.

Edmonton Journal - - SPORTS -

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 in­dus­tri­al­strength 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. 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 fourthquar­ter 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 ket­tle­bell 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 Gil­bert just 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, ev­ery­day 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-yearold 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.”

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.

PHO­TOS: TI­JANA MARTIN/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Tyler En­nis works out dur­ing a re­cov­ery ses­sion for his bro­ken tibia at The Move­ment Lab in Mis­sis­sauga, Ont. En­nis was just three reg­u­lar-sea­son games into his EuroLeague ca­reer with Turk­ish club Fener­bahce when he suf­fered a grue­some leg in­jury.

Tyler En­nis works on re­cov­er­ing from his bas­ket­ball in­jury.

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