GLENDALE, Ariz. — Just about a year ago, Dylan Ennis was sitting in Oregon coach Dana Altman’s crowded living room when there were 4.7 seconds left in a tied-up national championship game. He thought he knew what was going to happen.
“I told them all what play they were going to run for that last shot,” the Oregon guard recalled Friday of watching his former team, Villanova, charge down the court toward history. “The only thing that was different was I thought Ryan [Arcidiacono] was going to shoot it. He’d hit some big shots throughout his career and I’ve been on his team and watched them.”
Arcidiacono passed the ball to Kris Jenkins, who drained a three-pointer at the buzzer for the win. The Wildcats swarmed the court. Confetti filled the air. Ennis’ former teammates wept with joy.
And Ennis was in Eugene, Oregon, hoping his college career would not end, 1,800 miles away from a glory that could have been his.
Ennis transferred from Villanova to Oregon after three seasons in Philadelphia, the second transfer of his career after a redshirt season at Rice. A foot injury sidelined him early in the 2015-16 season and he petitioned the NCAA for a rare sixth year of eligibility. At the time Jenkins hit his shot, Ennis was still in college hoops limbo.
Now, a year later, he is here at the Final Four and will be on the court for Saturday night’s national semifinal against North Carolina (the team Villanova beat in the most recent final). It is the culmination of a long journey — about as long as one can make in college basketball — and now he’s the one playing while Villanova watches.
Watches and pulls for him.
“They all congratulated me when we won [in the Elite Eight],” said Ennis, 25, who averages 10.7 points in 31 minutes for the Ducks. “We were brothers before basketball and we still continue to support each other. They’re happy for me. I texted them when they won the national championship and to be here today with their support means everything.”
His relationship with Villanova coach Jay Wright didn’t just survive the divorce, it grew from it. Wright wrote glowingly of Ennis in his new book and Ennis said he and Wright have reached new levels of understanding.
“We actually became closer,” Ennis said. “Being a player on his team, I think it doesn’t give you the same relationship as when you are not playing. When I left, we became close because it’s man to man now . . . I knew when I left Villanova he’d be a friend for life.”
What he had no way of knowing is that he’d make it to the Final Four. He left Villanova for more playing time and a more fast-paced offensive system. But he brought some Big East grit with him.
“Villanova taught me so much,” he said. “It taught me how to be tough, it taught me how to face obstacles and get through it. It taught me to dive on that loose ball when nobody else will. Villanova, being there for three years, made me the player I am today and I thank them for it.”
There’d be no better way to show his appreciation than by winning it all.
“We don’t want to have a good three days,” Ennis said of the Final Four experience. “We’re not settling for being here because we’re hungry for more. We put our shoes on in the summertime and looked around and we didn’t say we want to be second or third or fourth best in the country. We wanted to be the national champions . . . We want to have a lifetime of memories, and hopefully we can say we were the best team in the country when it’s all said and done.”