Posted: 1:06 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 19, 2013
By Sean Farrell
Good pizza, Bruce Springsteen, The Sopranos and The Jersey Shore.
Those are a few things the Garden State is known for. But there's one more you may not think of.
High school basketball.
Tyler Ennis, of St. Benedict's in Newark, N.J. and Tyler Roberson, of Roselle Catholic, played about 20 minutes away from each other in high school. This year, they will be called upon to boost a Syracuse offense that lost three key scorers.
On Friday, Jim Boeheim called Ennis the most prepared freshman point guard he's seen at Syracuse.
"I think Tyler is a steady player. He knows how to play," Boeheim said at Syracuse's media day. "He plays like a veteran point guard as a freshman. He’s got a good skill set. He can be explosive."
Ennis was surrounded by people throughout media day at the Melo Center. In fact, he had to be interrupted just to take the team picture. But Ennis handled one of his first major encounters with the Syracuse media like a seasoned veteran. Assistant coach Mike Hopkins noticed Ennis' maturity and poise from the team's four scrimmages in Canada.
"He had a great head on his shoulders," Hopkins said. "When he played, he got everybody involved. He’s never rattled. We need to come up with a name like 'Never Nervous Pervis' but something different. He just has a great knack – very mature beyond his years."
That confidence as a freshman, Ennis said, is partially because he played in so many big games and pressure situations in high school.
Then-senior Ennis and St. Benedict's ended St. Anthony's 83 game winning streak during a game in the Prudential Center before a crowd of 4,349. His team finished the regular season 30-1. It helps to have a point guard averaging 20.8 points, 6.1 assists and 5.1 rebounds per game.
About 12 miles down the road, Tyler Roberson was not to be outdone. He led Roselle Catholic (25-5) to a state championship in his senior year. Roberson's Lions defeated St. Joseph (Metuchen), 65-49. He scored 19 points and had 12 rebounds in the championship game and held a Kentucky-bound center to just seven points.
"I’m a shot blocker," he said on Friday. "I like to contest a lot of shots, make it difficult for somebody to score. I think it’s going to translate pretty well to college."
Roberson was the Star-Ledger's Player of the Year in New Jersey. His high school coach called him the most talented big kid he's ever seen.
His college coach had some nice things to say, too, about the 6-foot-8 forward.
"He has excellent quickness and gets to the basket extremely well," Boeheim said. "He's a really good rebounder defensively and offensively."
Although the duo never met or played against each other in high school, Ennis knew about Roberson even before coming to Syracuse.
"In New Jersey, there’s a lot of players, but you pretty much know who the better players are," Ennis said. "So, I’ve watched a lot of his games when he was at Roselle and I knew what he did through camps and things like that so I was comfortable with his game."
While Roberson hasn't spent much time playing with Ennis, he's already starting to feel at ease playing with his point guard.
"I like playing with him a lot because if you’re open on the floor, he’ll get the ball to you," Roberson said.
On his own game, Ennis said "I’m a play maker, a leader, and just get everyone involved, but keep the game in control and just make plays for others."
But Ennis, originally from Ontario, said the transition to Syracuse's 2-3 zone has been an adjustment.
"Ours is a lot different than the traditional," Ennis said. "In high school, I played a little bit and in AAU. But here, it’s a lot of different concepts and different ways of thinking."
"It’s a lot of work knowing where to be," Roberson said. "There’s a lot of movement on defense. I’ve been working on it every day and putting in extra time."
Ennis was ranked the fifth highest point guard in his class by ESPN and the No. 20 recruit overall. Roberson was No. 31 overall, tenth among power forwards. The freshmen have impressed Hopkins so far by working in the gym for an hour or two after practices were over.
"Potential is great," Hopkins said. "But if you don’t have work ethic, then you’re not going to reach your potential."
Ennis and Roberson share a first name, a home state and now, a recruiting class. And with some more hard work, maybe they'll even share a national championship one day.