Virginia and Virginia Tech both figure to start top-shelf senior point guards next basketball season. The Cavaliers’ Jontel Evans is the ACC’s best returning on-the-ball defender, and the Hokies’ Erick Green is the conference’s No. 4 returning scorer.
Question is, who will take over those positions for the 2013-14 season?
At least one prospect rates high on both schools’ wish list: Rice transfer Dylan Ennis.
A 6-foot-2 graduate of Lake Forest Academy in suburban Chicago, Ennis just completed his freshman season at Rice. He started 27 of 35 games, averaged 8.5 points, 4.3 rebounds and 4.1 assists, and made Conference USA’s all-freshman team. He scored 14 or more points nine times, including a season-high 21 against East Carolina.
Ennis told me Wednesday evening that he's narrowed his options to Virginia, Virginia Tech, Villanova, Cincinnati and Boston College. He said the only visits he's scheduled are Villanova this weekend and Cincinnati next.
Ennis plans to decide next month and enroll this summer "to get acclimated" to teammates, coaches and classes.
"I'm looking for a fast-paced, guard-dominated offense so I can go in there, run the offense and get it and go," Ennis said.
Leaving Rice, located in Houston, was a matter of wanting to be closer to his parents in Toronto and other family on the East Coast, Ennis added.
His high school coach, Matt Vaughn, believes Ennis also wants to test himself at a higher level than Conference USA.
Ennis averaged 23 points, eight rebounds and seven assists as a high school senior, and according to Rivals.com his scholarship offers included George Mason, UNC Wilmington, Texas Christian, Creighton and Northern Iowa.
“He just got better and better,” Vaughn said. "He can be a pure point guard when he wants to, but he can put points on the board, too. He goes right at you. Not a lot of flash as a ballhandler, but he knows where he wants to go and figures out how to get there.”
After committing to Rice, Ennis improved athletically and drew some interest from "high majors," according to Vaughn. But he still signed with Rice.
Vaughn said the question of whether he could compete in a premier conference "kind of gnawed at (Ennis) a little bit. He loves basketball so much. It’s something he’ll regret if he doesn’t try.”
Does Vaughn see him at that level?
“Competitively, and basketball IQ-wise, yes," he said. "He’s probably still limited athletically, but he just knows how to play. Could he be all-conference or a star? I don’t know. I think he could have been at Rice.”
Ennis shooting percentages at Rice weren’t award-winning from any range: 43.5 overall, 35.4 from beyond the 3-point arc and 66.4 at the free-throw line.
Rice finished 19-16 this season, 8-8 in Conference USA. The Owls lost to Oakland in the quarterfinals of the CollegeInsider.com tournament, a game in which Ennis contributed 14 points, five assists, five rebounds, three blocked shots and a steal.
Ennis’ older brother, Brandon, plays for the University of the District of Columbia. His younger brother, Tyler, is a class of 2013 point guard at St. Benedict’s in Newark, N.J., with scholarship offers from Virginia, Georgetown, Kansas, Georgia Tech and Arizona, among others.
Per NCAA transfer rules, Ennis will sit out next season, which meshes with the point guard succession at Virginia and Virginia Tech. Neither the Hokies nor Cavaliers have an heir apparent at the position.
Virginia’s backup to Evans next season likely will be freshman Teven Jones, who enrolled in January after graduating early from Fishburne Military School. Sophomore Marquis Rankin is the probable backup for Green (15.6 points per game) at Virginia Tech next season.
Even if Jones and/or Rankin morph into 35-minute-per-game, ACC-caliber lead guards, every coach wants a capable backup. Ask North Carolina’s Roy Williams, who after injuries to Dexter Strickland and Kendall Marshall was left with the gallant-but-overmatched Stilman White against Kansas in the NCAA tournament.
Virginia’s point guard search gained urgency Tuesday when news broke that Duquesne transfer T.J. McConnell had chosen Arizona over the Cavaliers.
McConnell stood 5-8 and weighed 125 pounds when, as a high school sophomore, he committed to play for Duquesne in his hometown of Pittsburgh. Five inches, 60 pounds and four-plus years later, he has arguably outgrown the Atlantic 10 program, which recently fired coach Ron Everhart, a Virginia Tech graduate.
The 6-foot-1, 185-pound McConnell played in 63 games for Duquesne, starting 61. The Dukes went 19-13 and 16-15 in those seasons, with McConnell averaging 11.1 points, 4.9 assists and 2.8 steals for his career there.
McConnell, who played for his father, Tim, at Chartiers Valley High School, ranked third nationally this season in steals at 2.8 per game. Steals don’t necessarily equate to lock-down, on-the-ball defense like that played by Evans, but they do indicate McConnell possesses good instincts.
The 2011 Atlantic 10 rookie of the year, McConnell was third-team all-conference this season.
But as ideal a fit as McConnell appeared for Virginia, he chose Arizona, coached by his fellow Pittsburgh native Sean Miller. That connection — the families know one another — was Arizona’s trump.
Neither Virginia nor Virginia Tech is a haven for transfers.
The Cavaliers’ most recent was point guard Calvin Baker of Woodside High School. He played one season at William and Mary, his final three for Virginia, completing his eligibility in 2009-10, Tony Bennett’s first season in Charlottesville.
While Ennis would provide Virginia Tech instant experience in 2013-14, the Hokies continue to aggressively recruit Hampton High point guard Anthony “Cat” Barber, who will be a college freshman in 2013-14. Barber also has offers from Kansas and Alabama.
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