Old Man on the Ducks: Dylan Ennis Takes the Long Way to the Final Four


Ennis is 25 — one of the oldest players in N.C.A.A tournament history — and is a rare sixth-year senior. On Saturday, he and his third-seeded team upset No. 1 Kansas, 74-60, in the Midwest Regional final of the N.C.A.A. men’s basketball tournament. The last time the Ducks advanced this far was in 1939, when they won the championship just before World War II began.

Perhaps few outside of Oregon believed the Ducks would win Saturday night, given how the Jayhawks’ powerhouse offense had been averaging nearly 100 points a game in this tournament.

The Ducks, as Ellis and his teammates preferred it, were underdogs.

With the Jayhawks’ campus about 40 miles away, Sprint Center was packed with Kansas fans. Of the 18,643 announced spectators, Ducks fans, maybe 600 of them, took up less than one section — just a splash of green in a roiling coliseum of Jayhawks blue. But when the arena started to rumble with crowd noise that targeted the Ducks, they actually seemed to play better.

“Everybody doubts us, not that it matters to us,” Ennis said. “But I always ask one of our managers, ‘What does Vegas have us at today?’ And it’s always us losing by 10, or by 1. It’s always us losing. But I like that. We’re a team that likes that.” (The oddsmakers had Kansas as a 7-point favorite on Saturday.)

At the Final Four, the Ducks will play the winner of Sunday’s North Carolina-Kentucky game, and it will take yet another upset of a basketball powerhouse for them to make it to the championship. Ennis said he was ready — and he had better be. He has had more than enough time to prepare for this.

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Dylan Ennis, No. 31, and Payton Pritchard at the end of Oregon’s upset win over Kansas on Saturday in the N.C.A.A. Midwest Regional final.

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Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

Ennis, from Brampton, Ontario, is playing for his third university and has been playing college basketball for so long that his brother Tyler, who is 6-3 and nearly three years younger, is already a third-year player in the N.B.A., with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Dylan started off at Rice. After a year, he transferred to Villanova, where he had to sit out a season because of N.C.A.A. rules. Just before he was eligible to play, he broke his foot. His third year at Villanova, in 2014-15, he was a starter and helped the team win the Big East title and make it to the third round of the N.C.A.A. tournament.

But for Ennis, it wasn’t enough. To increase his chances of playing in the N.B.A., he wanted to be a pure point guard, but there was no room for that in Villanova’s system. So Ennis took his bachelor’s degree and transferred yet again, to Oregon, where he is getting a master’s degree in conflict and dispute resolution.

He broke his foot last year and ended up playing in only two games. Villanova won the national championship without him.

“I’ve had a lot of ups and downs going from school to school, and it’s been hard not getting to leave my blueprints on a program,” he said. “But I had to do what was best for me as a basketball player.”

The team calls Ennis O.G., for Original Gangster, a guy who has been around the neighborhood for a long time and can give younger guys advice because he has seen so much. Before the Kansas game, he huddled the team in the tunnel and pointed to a sign on the wall that said, “Phoenix is that way,” referring to the city whose suburb, Glendale, will host the Final Four.

“It’s us against the world now,” forward Dillon Brooks recalled Ennis saying. “It’s meant to be that we finish this night in the locker room, holding that trophy up. Don’t waste this moment.”

Even from the cheap seats, it was easy to point out Ennis during the game, and not just because of the shock of blond hair his girlfriend dyed for him. He was a burst of energy, crashing into the seats a few times when he chased after loose balls. He played 39 minutes, pretty good for the O.G., Old Guy. It was the most on his team.

When the game was over, the Ducks raised the trophy to a nearly empty arena. Ennis later said it seemed surreal, especially after his long journey to get here. Broken feet. Hundreds of hours of rehabilitation. New teams and new teammates. An uncertain future as he was waiting for the N.C.A.A. to grant him a sixth year because of his injuries.

But he had finally measured up. The Ducks had measured up. Both ended the night standing so much taller.

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