James Ennis III Joins Team at Disney After Recovering From COVID-19
Magic forward in good health now and is working hard to regain his strength and improve his conditioning
ORLANDO - James Ennis III attended four schools while in high school in California, played for three college programs in four seasons and chased his hoop dreams to Australia and Puerto Rico before setting into an NBA career that has seen him play for seven franchises and get traded four times midseason.
One of six kids in a family that grew up mostly in poverty with a disabled mother, Ennis III is used to dealing with all kinds of adversity. However, when the Orlando Magic forward was recently tested positive for the COVID-19 virus, it threw him for quite the loop – both physically and emotionally.
``When I got it, I was like, `It’s always something for me!’’’ Ennis III said on Thursday – his first day back at practice with his Magic teammates after testing negatively for the virus and clearing quarantine. ``I always have a speed bump for me, but I talked to my mom and she said, `Everything happens for a reason. God has to stay with us.’ It was just (a mantra of), `One day at a time,’ and I was itching to get back. Now, I’m on the court, so it’s all good now.’’
The Magic got quite the personnel boost on a couple of fronts when Ennis III returned to practice on Wednesday, and standout point guard Markelle Fultz reported to Disney’s campus-like environment on Tuesday night. Fultz, the Magic’s starter at point guard this season for 59 games, did not initially travel with the Magic to nearby Disney World last Tuesday and missed the squad’s first five days of workouts and walkthroughs because of a personal matter that had been excused by the team. Fultz, who has averaged 12.1 points, 5.2 assists, 3.3 rebounds and 1.3 steals over 64 games, will be quarantined for a minimum of 48 hours before being allowed to rejoin the Magic on the practice floor – something the team is hoping will happen as soon as possible.
Orlando begins its three tune-up scrimmage games – against the Clippers (July 22, 3 p.m.), Lakers (July 25, noon) and Nuggets (July 27, 7 p.m.) – next week in Disney’s sequestered setting. The Magic are attempting to ramp up for the NBA’s regular-season restart-opener against the injury-and-illness-ravaged Brooklyn Nets (July 31, 2:30 p.m.). Brooklyn (30-34) is just a half-game ahead of Orlando (30-35) for the seventh-seed in the Eastern Conference. The Magic are already 2-0 this season against the Nets and can secure the first tiebreaker over the Nets with a win on July 31.
Magic coach Steve Clifford has said that his team is somewhat ahead of where he thought it would be in terms of conditioning, sharpness and focus following a four-plus-month layoff from since the NBA’s stoppage in play on March 11. The squad practiced early on Wednesday after having an off day on Tuesday – not always a recipe for success, but the team powered through it and had a productive session, Clifford said.
``I thought they did a great job. An 8:30 a.m. practice for an NBA team is not normal, obviously, but we had good energy and we did a lot of contact today,’’ Clifford said. ``We played better and better. Practice after a day off is usually … it’s a little bit harder to get their bodies going. We got off to a little bit of a slow start, but after that they were really good, and the effort and the attitude were very good.’’
The effort and attitude improvements could have been a product of the high-energy Ennis III returning to the court. Orlando acquired Ennis on Feb. 6 from the Philadelphia 76ers, and the forward had an almost immediate impact on the team in a variety of ways.
After playing off the bench in his first two games with the Magic, Ennis III was moved into the starting lineup on Feb. 21. In his first 12 games with Orlando, the Magic went an impressive 8-4 while evolving into one of the league’s most lethal teams offensively.
``James has had a big impact,’’ Magic teammate Michael-Carter Williams said of Ennis, who has averaged 6.8 points, 4.1 rebounds and 1.1 assists in 12 games with Orlando. ``He runs the floor great, he defends really well, and he picks up the pace of our team. So, he’s an important piece. He’s a great defender, he gets offensive rebounds and he does all of the little things out there that every team needs, and he knocks down the open shot. So, he’s a big part of our team.’’
Ennis III said he worked especially hard during the NBA’s stoppage in play – sometimes putting in two-a-day and three-a-day sessions – to make sure that he could continue making big contributions to the Magic once the season restarted. However, those workouts came to a halt some three weeks ago when he tested positive for the COVID-19 virus.
NBA players were tested on an every-other-day basis in the month prior to coming to teams coming to Disney. The stringent testing was done in an effort to identify those infected with the virus so that they could be isolated, treated and given time to recover before rejoining their teammates in Disney’s sequestered setting.
For Ennis III, all that he went through while battling the virus that has killed some 137,000 Americans was both scary and extremely taxing on his body.
``I had a headache for like four-to-five days and for the first 24 hours I was down and throwing up,’’ said Ennis III, who noted that he was quarantined in his own home to keep his family safe from potentially catching the virus. ``But now, my health is better and I’m just trying to get my wind up and get back in rhythm. My first scrimmage is next week, so I want to be prepared for that.’’
Ennis III said the support of his Magic teammates helped him get through a challenging time when he felt tremendous sickness, frustration and isolation.
``A lot of people reached out to me. I have a couple of good friends and I talked to Mike (Carter-Williams) a lot when I was down, Mo Bamba and Vic (Law),’’ Ennis III said. ``We have a (Magic players’) group chat and I kept interacting with everybody in there. I’m just happy to be back with the fellas on the court and the energy was good (on Wednesday at practice). That’s why I love being a part of this, because everyone is so determined.’’
Ennis III said that he is still somewhat feeling the effects of the COVID-19 virus and the rustiness of being off his feet while isolated for some three weeks. He is hopeful that with another week of practice with the Magic that he will be ready by next week when the squad plays its three tune-up scrimmages.
``I lost my wind and I’m rusty, honestly, so I’ve got to shake the dust off of me,’’ he admitted. ``By doing that, I’ve got to stay in the gym and do the little things to get my body back right and get my legs under me. I’m ready, I’m here, my focus is at 100 (percent) and I’m ready to do whatever it takes to get back to the ``two-weeks-James-prior-to-having-the-COVID.’’ I’m ready and I’m excited.’’
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