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dbarmmer posted a blog entry in The PULSE BlogBy Dylan Barmmer It has been a fascinating and intriguing journey for James Ennis. With quite a few miles traveled along the way. Over the past three years, the ultra-athletic, cat-quick Ennis has gone from under-the-radar college star at Long Beach State to champion and league MVP candidate in Australia to his current role – an intriguing and versatile component of the HEAT’s rotation. Now that he’s been with the HEAT for several months, coaches, teammates and fans alike are beginning to see more and more of what made the dynamic 24-year-old swingman so successful in previous programs. The 6-foot-7, 208-pound Ennis grew up in Ventura, California, and went on to basketball stardom at Ventura High School before splitting his first two college seasons between Oxnard College (2009-10) and Ventura College (2010-11). Ennis moved on to Long Beach State in 2011, and found great success in two seasons as a starter for the 49ers. As a junior in the 2011-2012 season, Ennis averaged 10.0 points and 4.1 rebounds per game and helped lead the 49ers to the Big West Conference title. The explosive Ennis also garnered All-Big West Conference honors in his first season at Long Beach State. As a senior in the 2012-13 season, Ennis really came into his own, averaging 16.5 points and 6.7 rebounds per game while leading the 49ers to a second consecutive Big West Conference title. Ennis was also named Big West Player of the Year and an Associated Press Honorable Mention All-American. That season gave Ennis added buzz among NBA personnel people. The Atlanta Hawks selected Ennis in the second round of the 2013 NBA Draft, tabbing him with the 50th overall pick. His draft rights were then immediately traded to the HEAT – but Ennis would spend his first professional basketball season not only miles away from Miami, but far away from the NBA as he signed with the Perth Wildcats of Australia’s National Basketball League prior to their 2013-14 season. Ennis wasted no time starring in and at times dominating the NBL, averaging 21.2 points, 7.2 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.4 steals in 31.7 minutes a game over 33 games. Ennis started all but one of those games for the Wildcats at the small forward spot, and shot 46.6 percent from the field, including 35.5 percent from behind the three-point arc. More importantly, Ennis helped lead the Wildcats to victory in the 2014 NBL Championship. He finished third in NBL MVP voting, and won a handful of other league honors, including Forward of the Year and Import Player of the Year. He was also named All-NBL First Team and awarded the Gordon Ellis Medal as the Wildcats’ team MVP. Not satisfied with dominating the competition in Australia, Ennis then immediately moved on to Puerto Rico, where he averaged 16.6 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.0 blocks in 33.6 minutes over 12 games for Piratas de Quebradillas. Ennis started all 12 of those games for Piratas, shooting 47 percent from the field. In June of 2014, Ennis left Puerto Rico to return to the continental U.S. – and pursue his ultimate dream of an NBA career. Playing for the HEAT’s entry in the NBA Summer League for the second straight summer, Ennis dazzled with his leaping ability, quick hands, ferocious dunking and accurate outside shooting, prompting the HEAT to officially sign Ennis to an NBA contract on July 15, 2014. Ennis got his first taste of NBA action in the HEAT’s 2014-15 season opener, scoring five points and grabbing two rebounds in 15 minutes of action as the HEAT posted a 107-95 win over the Washington Wizards on Oct. 29, 2014. Ennis’ most talked-about moment in his debut was a thunderous fourth-quarter dunk over former HEAT swingman Rasual Butler – an explosive and vicious jam that made numerous highlight reels. With an array of injuries slowing starters Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Luol Deng, and key reserve Chris Andersen also battling assorted ailments, Ennis factored heavily into coach Erik Spoelstra’s rotation from mid-November through late-December. Given the opportunity to showcase his still-expanding skill set, Ennis flashed moments of excellence and suggested he could serve as a powerful sparkplug off the HEAT bench in the months and years to come. Over a 20-game stretch from Nov. 16 through Dec. 23, Ennis saw 12 minutes or more of game action 14 times – including 22 minutes or more in six of those 20 games. He scored seven or more points in seven of those 20 games, including a 10-point outing in a 95-83 win at Brooklyn on Nov. 17 and a career-high 16-point outburst in a 100-84 victory over Boston on Dec. 21. Ennis also showcased his rebounding abilities during this run of games, pulling down a career-high eight rebounds in that win over the Celtics and posting an eight-point, eight-rebound performance in a 114-97 loss to Golden State on Nov. 25. Ennis fell out of the HEAT playing rotation over the final week of 2014, but nagging leg injuries to Wade and Deng provided the high-energy reserve with additional opportunities in much of January. Given the chance to provide and produce more, Ennis once again delivered. Ennis logged at least 15 minutes of floor time for the HEAT six times in January and scored seven or more points in three different games. Overall, he appeared in 10 games in the first month of 2015, averaging 4.4 points, 2.6 rebounds, 0.7 assists and 0.5 steals over 17.1 minutes per game. Ennis’ finest January performance came in a 93-72 loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Jan. 30, when he scored 15 points and hauled in four rebounds in 32 minutes of action. Ennis nailed 6-of-12 shots in that game, including 3-of-5 from long-range. His most emphatic basket came on a sensational, powerful alley-oop dunk on a pass from Mario Chalmers, and the tomahawk jam ignited the AmericanAirlines Arena crowd. Two days later in Boston, Ennis again showed strong against the Celtics, recording eight points, three rebounds and a steal in an important 83-75 road win on Feb. 1. Ennis played 24 high-energy minutes in that game, and connected on 3-of-6 shots from the field. He also hit both of his free throw attempts, and his scoring output off the HEAT bench ended up being the difference in the eight-point victory. Ennis would go on to appear in seven more games in February, and averaged 3.8 points and 3.0 rebounds in 16.3 minutes per game for the month. The HEAT went 4-4 in the eight games Ennis appeared in during the month. When the HEAT signed gritty veteran Henry Walker towards the end of February, the still-learning Ennis faced an even tougher climb back into Spoelstra’s regular rotation. Ennis has appeared in just six games in March, but he’s made a major impact in all but one of those games (and he only played one minute in that one). With the HEAT battling for a playoff spot down the season’s stretch and Wade, Deng, Andersen and Hassan Whiteside all missing varying amounts of time due to injuries, Ennis has done a little bit of everything when presented with the opportunity to again showcase his skills. And he’s done it while being asked to sit out eight consecutive games in between those opportunities. Ennis appeared in three of the HEAT’s first four games in March, posting an 11-point, five-rebound performance during a tough 99-97 loss at Washington on March 6. Then came the eight consecutive stints on the sidelines, before Ennis reemerged as a strong cog off the HEAT bench over the past three games. Ennis has delivered on Spoelstra’s decision to once again re-insert him into the rotation, scoring at least six points in each of those three games and pulling down six rebounds in two of them. His six-point, six-rebound, two-block performance helped key a crucial 93-86 victory over the Celtics on March 25, and on March 29, Ennis tied his career-high with 16 points and pulled down six rebounds in a 109-102 win over the Detroit Pistons. Ennis has averaged 7.7 points and 3.3 rebounds in 17.7 minutes per game in his six March appearances. He’s also shot a sizzling 56.5 percent from the field, including a remarkable 58.3 percent (7-of-12) from behind the three-point arc. Most importantly, the HEAT are 4-2 in those six games. All told, Ennis has appeared in 53 games for the HEAT in his first NBA season. He’s averaging 4.4 points, 2.5 rebounds and 0.6 assists in 15.2 minutes per game. He’s shooting 40.7 percent from the field, including 34.8 percent from long-range, and an outstanding 83.6 percent from the line. Ennis has scored seven or more points in 15 of those 52 games, and grabbed three or more rebounds 20 different times. Ennis has scored at least 10 points in five different games, and grabbed six or more rebounds eight times. Ennis has also thrilled HEAT fans and ignited teammates with a handful of high-flying, eye-popping, rim-rocking dunks – with the jam against the Mavericks and the season-opening stuff over the Wizards both gaining national acclaim. As he begins to develop more experience, confidence, insight and savvy on the HEAT practice court and in critical NBA game situations, Ennis only figures to become an even more valuable, versatile and exciting option for Spoelstra to utilize off the HEAT bench. With the HEAT challenged by injuries this season, Ennis has even made a spot start, with that lone start coming just nine games into his first NBA season. Ennis can play both the small forward and shooting guard positions, and his quickness, energy, leaping ability and overall athleticism are the kind of assets any team would welcome. As the HEAT launch full sprint into the stretch run of this intriguing and eventful 2014-15 season, Ennis stands ready to provide a serious jolt of energy, excitement and athleticism off the HEAT bench.
By Dylan Barmmer This is not Henry Walker’s first go-around in the NBA. Although technically, it just might be. Formerly known as Bill Walker, the talented new HEAT swingman was once a standout sub for the New York Knicks, appearing in 121 games over parts of three seasons from 2010 through 2012. And even before his time with the Knicks, the former college teammate of HEAT forward Michael Beasley was the 47th overall pick in the 2008 NBA Draft who would soon appear in 37 games with the Boston Celtics. But that was then. That was Bill Walker. This is now. This is Henry Walker. And this time around, Walker has wasted no time making his “new” name known. To HEAT teammates. HEAT fans. And observers all around basketball’s premier professional league. Call him Henry. Call him Bill. Call him William Henry Walker (his given name, in full). Call him… Clutch. Or, in the words of HEAT coach Erik Spoelstra: Fearless. The 6-foot-6, 235-pound Walker has been all of these things and more in his first six games in a HEAT uniform. Determined to make the most of his second NBA chance, the seasoned swingman is playing with a tenacity that could pay huge dividends for the HEAT as they enter the stretch run of the 2014-15 season with a playoff berth hanging in the balance. It has certainly been an instant impact. Signed to a 10-day contract with the HEAT after carefully honing his craft in three different leagues in the United States, Venezuela and the Philippines since his last NBA action in 2012, Walker became only the third player in HEAT history to score at least 10 points off the bench in each of his first three games with the club. Walker made his HEAT debut against Philadelphia on Feb. 23, and promptly scored 11 points in 21 minutes off the bench to help pace the HEAT to a 119-108 victory. Walker connected on 4-of-5 shots – drilling three threes and throwing down a thunderous dunk. Walker’s performance in his next game was not nearly as smooth, but it was certainly more dramatic. Playing a season-high 33 minutes, Walker scored 10 points, pulled down six rebounds, dished two assists and snared two steals in a 93-90 overtime road win at Orlando. Walker finished 3-of-13 from the field, including 2-of-11 from long-range, but those two threes were nothing short of game-changing. The HEAT trailed 83-75 with just 37 seconds remaining on the clock, but Walker calmly drilled a pair of long threes to punctuate a 10-2 run that forced an 85-85 tie at the end of regulation. The HEAT went on to post a 93-90 win, and Walker immediately etched his new name into the annals of HEAT history. Walker’s first game-turning bomb came from 26 feet away with 22 seconds left on the clock, and cut the Magic lead to 84-82. Even though Walker had shot just 1-for-11 from the field (including 0-for-9 from long-range) up to that point, Spoelstra called a play to free Walker for the shot, and he delivered in dramatic fashion. After Magic rookie Victor Oladipo made just one of two free-throw attempts to put Orlando up 85-82 with 21 seconds remaining, Walker again found himself with the ball in his hands, drilling another long 3-pointer off a slick pass from Dwyane Wade to even the score at 85-85 with just two seconds left in regulation. The HEAT won overtime, 8-5, to win the game 93-90 and deflate their in-state rivals. “He kept on shooting, and that’s what you like,” Spoelstra said after the game. “He has fearlessness about him.” When asked by the HEAT’s Jason Jackson to recap his heroics, Walker himself insisted he had “nothing to lose,” adding that he “can’t be scared” of such moments. “I’m just glad they had faith in me,” Walker told Jackson. “I’m glad Dwyane threw that thing to me. I’ve been through a lot. I’m a fighter. I missed a lot of shots, but I stayed in there and made it.” Two nights later, Walker put forth another bold and big-time performance, scoring a season-high 16 points and grabbing three rebounds in a tough 104-102 loss at New Orleans. Walker hit 6-of-13 shots in that game, including 4-of-9 from 3-point range, and was on the floor for 31 minutes of the hotly contested game. The next night, with the HEAT facing the Eastern Conference-leading Atlanta Hawks on the second half of a back-to-back, Walker got his first start in a HEAT uniform. As part of a three-guard lineup alongside Wade and the newly acquired Goran Dragic, Walker scored 10 points, grabbed two rebounds and dished an assist in 26 minutes. Two nights later against Phoenix, Walker got into some foul trouble and managed just 12 minutes on the court, but he still made an impact on the game with four rebounds and an assist. Most importantly, the HEAT posted an impressive 115-98 win. And in a March 4 meeting with the L.A. Lakers, Walker scored eight points, pulled down one rebound and added an assist and a steal during a 100-94 win. Walker was on the floor for 25 minutes of that game, including the closing minutes of a very tight game. In six games with the HEAT, Walker has averaged 9.2 points, 2.8 rebounds and 1.0 assists in 24.8 minutes per game. He’s drilled 13 3-pointers, including two or more in five of those six games. And he’s given the HEAT a true spark, attitude and edge off the bench. The HEAT are 4-2 in the six games Walker has taken the floor, with each of the two losses coming by just two points. While Walker’s instant impact may look like something out-of-the-blue on the surface, the truth is that the HEAT have been preparing to showcase his talents for awhile now. Walker was originally acquired by the HEAT’s NBA Development League affiliate in Sioux Falls, South Dakota on April 3, 2013 – his second NBADL stop since he was cut loose by the Knicks nearly a year earlier. He never played a game for the Skyforce, opting to sign with Trotamundos de Carabobo of Venezuela’s Liga Profesional de Baloncesto on May 20. But on October 31, 2013, Walker was reacquired by the Skyforce, and he spent the 2013-14 NBADL season with the club. Walker made a huge impact, averaging 14.7 points and 5.6 rebounds in 29.5 minutes a game over 48 games for the Skyforce, starting 33 of those 48 while shooting 44.7 percent from the floor, including 35.6 percent from long-range. Walker also produced in volume, drilling 98 3-pointers in those 48 games. After a short stint with the Alaska Aces in the Philippine Basketball Association early last year, Walker returned to Sioux Falls and the NBADL. In 17 games with the Skyforce this season, he averaged 15.1 points, starting eight of those 17 games while shooting 46.8 percent. With the recent three-team trade deadline deal that brought playmaking veteran Goran Dragic and his brother Zoran to the HEAT, a spot on the HEAT roster opened up for Walker. Spoelstra and the HEAT quickly called him up from Sioux Falls, then wasted little time calling his number. Walker has eagerly and aggressively answered the calls, and recently earned a second 10-day contract from the club as a reward for his performance. Walker is still relatively young – in age and in NBA experience and “mileage.” His strongest overall NBA season came in 2009-10, when the New York Knicks acquired him in a trade with the Celtics. After appearing in a limited role in just 37 games for Boston over the previous season-and-a-half, Walker arrived in New York with former HEAT standout Eddie House and J.R. Giddens in exchange for Nate Robinson and Marcus Landry – and made an immediate impact as a hard-charging, sweet-shooting sparkplug for the Knicks. Walker drained 50 3-pointers in those 27 games for the Knicks, and finished second in the entire NBA with a “true shooting percentage” of 64.9 for the 2009-10 season. Walker played a prominent role off the Knicks’ bench the following season, averaging 12.9 minutes per game. He appeared in a career-high 61 games, and shot 44.1 percent from the field, including 38.6 percent from 3-point territory. Walker canned a career-high 59 3-pointers that season, and also pulled down a career-best 122 rebounds. The Knicks won 13 more games than they had the previous season, making the 2011 NBA Playoffs as the sixth seed after posting a 42-40 regular season record. But the Knicks opted to release Walker in April of 2012. Thus began a nearly three-year basketball odyssey that traversed various corners of the globe and a few NBADL cities before reaching the sunny shores of Miami. It’s an inspiring and amazing basketball journey not unlike the recent road traveled by HEAT center Hassan Whiteside. Hard to follow. And even harder to believe. Whiteside has been an absolute revelation for the HEAT, not only reclaiming a stalled NBA career, but emerging as a unique and dominant force during the most recent act and arc of his career. The HEAT hope that Walker can author a similarly scintillating comeback story – and help them finish a challenging season strong to reach the postseason for a seventh straight year. After Watching Walker’s performance in his first six games in a HEAT uniform, there’s reason to believe in such a scenario. The statistical accomplishments and shooting heroics are impressive in and of themselves. But when you take a closer look at Walker and his package of size, skills and experience, things look even more promising. You also start to see why Spoelstra and his staff have been keeping close tabs on him for the past several seasons. Walker is big, long, athletic and powerful. He can play up to three different positions, and while knee injuries have curtailed some of his explosiveness over the years, he remains an excellent and agile athlete – as evidenced by that dunk in his first game with the HEAT. During his high school days in Ohio, Walker was regarded as an elite athlete and leaper. Dubbed “Sky Walker” by some and compared to Vince Carter by others, Walker teamed with fellow basketball prodigy – and current Milwaukee Buck – O.J. Mayo to lead North College Hill High School to rarefied air (including back-to-back state titles), along with starring appearances in just about every prep all-star affair imaginable. In fact, Walker ranks as the only prep player to ever earn MVP honors three times at the prestigious Reebok ABCD Camp. He also played on the undefeated (5-0) USA White team at the 2005 USA Youth Development Festival. Walker went on to sign with Kansas State, where he planned to team up with Beasley to give the Wildcats a formidable one-two punch. Walker’s freshman season was slowed by the first of a handful of knee injuries, but he bounced back to average 16.1 points and 6.3 rebounds in 31 games as a sophomore in the 2007-08 season. He then decided to declare for the NBA Draft. Selected by Washington in the second round of the 2008 NBA Draft and then immediately traded to Boston, the West Virginia native and Ohio prep star had no idea he was about to embark on a professional basketball journey that would see him bounce from the northeast U.S. to Venezuela to the Philippines and then back to the southeast U.S. He probably never imagined he would play in four different leagues in three different countries during a particularly hectic three-year stretch. But through it all, Walker has emerged tougher, humbler and more seasoned than ever before. His brilliant smile suggests that he’s still enjoying the journey, and why not? He is Henry Walker now. He is back in the NBA. And he is, in a word: Fearless.