In becoming Oregon's loudest cheerleader on the bench last season, injured guard Dylan Ennis found his voice as a leader. He was a graduate transfer from Villanova when he arrived in Eugene last year, expecting to play his final college season for the Ducks. But a stress fracture in his foot kept him off the court.
In becoming Oregon's loudest cheerleader on the bench last season, injured guard Dylan Ennis found his voice as a leader.
He was a graduate transfer from Villanova when he arrived in Eugene last year, expecting to play his final college season for the Ducks. But a stress fracture in his foot kept him off the court.
Ennis appeared in just two games before aggravating the injury. He learned he would need surgery, effectively ending his season — and perhaps his college career.
"I was so shocked. I couldn't believe it when they told me," Ennis said. "I thought that with a broken foot I wouldn't be able to walk."
He could only watch as Oregon won a school-record 31 games while claiming the Pac-12 regular-season and tournament titles. The Ducks earned their first No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and advanced to the Elite Eight for the first time since 2007.
"Down the line I realized I had to try to help the team any which way I could," Ennis said. "But those first couple times when we lost — it wasn't the losses that hurt, it was how we were reacting. I knew I wanted to play so bad, and I started seeing things, like we took it for granted. Guys wouldn't come out and play hard every day, and they would tell you the same thing."
So what did Ennis do? He started cheering. And yelling. And shouting. Whatever it took.
"What I realized being on the sideline was how big of a voice I could have," he said. "I'd been a vocal leader all my life, but doing it from the sideline was something different. With me coming back this year and playing, I think it really helped. And I think it's been contagious: Dillon Brooks has started to be a more vocal leader, and Chris Boucher. Even Casey Benson and Jordan Bell."
This season the Ducks are ranked No. 5 in The Associated Press preseason Top 25. They've been selected to finish atop the league in the Pac-12's annual media poll for the first time in school history.
Oregon returns four of five starters from last season's team, including Brooks, a junior forward who led the squad with 16.7 points per game.
Brooks is expected to miss a few games at the start of the season because of a foot injury. The Ducks open at home Friday night against Army.
It is expected that Tyler Dorsey, who averaged 13.4 points and 4.3 rebounds in 35 starts as a freshman last season, will start with Ennis and Benson, as the Ducks go with a three-guard lineup in Brooks' absence.
"We've got good depth at the guard spots, and I think those guys will look at that as a challenge to pick up the areas that Dillon would generally do," he said.
Ennis relishes the challenge. He laughs when asked his actual position: He sees himself as a point guard, but he'll play wherever he's needed.
In fact, he's just happy for the opportunity.
Oregon applied to the NCAA to allow Ennis to play one more season for the Ducks after the broken foot. The 6-foot-2, 190-pound guard had taken a rather circuitous route to Eugene, playing his freshman season at Rice before transferring to Villanova, then finding his way to Oregon as a graduate transfer.
Currently pursuing a master's degree in conflict and dispute resolution, Ennis heard in June that he had received an additional year of eligibility.
He called it one of the best days of his life.
"I'm one of the stories where I wasn't a one-and-done," he said. "I wasn't a big talent to come out of a big city. I'm one of the ones that had to go the long route. Most people have to go the long route. It's all about perseverance."
Follow Anne M. Peterson on Twitter @AnnieMPeterson