James Ennis has always been capable of serious hang time.
"I did high jump at high school," Ennis explained. "I jumped six foot five and when I went to JC [junior college] I jumped six foot 11."
These days he has set the bar high as the best and most exciting athlete in the NBL in more than a decade. The American import has lit up the competition and will be the star attraction when his unbeaten Perth outfit takes on the Kings at Sydney Entertainment Centre on Sunday.
The 50th pick in the NBA draft, Ennis admits to feeling homesickness since coming to Australia but it's his love of family that brought him Down Under. As a member of the Miami Heat squad, he could have opted to play in the D-League, where salaries are capped at $US25,000. Instead, he decided to develop his game in Australia to help ease the financial burden on his large family. One of six children, Ennis grew up in the Westview Village housing project in Ventura, California, where money was always tight. "My dad is doing some construction stuff and my mum is a little bit disabled," he said.
"She's doing a lot better, she's doing therapy right now for her leg."
Neither of them is likely to visit Ennis in Australia – "my dad doesn't trust planes" – but there are already plans to bring out one of his two younger brothers, also outstanding basketball talents, in coming weeks.
The chance to provide a better life for his family is a strong motivation after growing up in a rough neighbourhood. "We were African-Americans growing up with a whole lot of Hispanic people in our [area]," he said. "Basically we had to watch our backs every time we stepped off because of different areas, like Colonia, they all come down and just look for people on the streets.
"For like a month no black people could walk on the streets because they were getting jumped. One of my best friends got jumped when he was going to the gym. That keeps me motivated to develop my game, get some wins and play hard."
Ennis excelled at a number of sports at school but the chance to play basketball, a sport his father also loved, at a professional level was the ultimate goal. "Before I used to play basketball I used to skateboard, play soccer, bike, rollerblade. I was a pretty extreme guy growing up," he said.
"When I was in sixth grade I started taking basketball serious."
Before the NBA draft, the 23-year-old had the chance to trial with a number of NBA franchises. One of the highlights came at Los Angeles.
"When I went to the Lakers trial I actually met Kobe [Bryant], he was on a little scooter thing. I was starstruck a little bit because he's my favourite player," he said.
"That's the goal I've had from when I was younger, to play in the NBA."
For now, he will have to settle for dominating the NBL. Ennis is averaging a league-best 25.5 points per game, is equal first from downtown (10 three-pointers) and is third in total steals with four. But it's the way he goes about his work that has everyone talking. Many of Ennis' points have come via spectacular dunks, the likes not seen since the days of Leon Trimminghan, Dwayne McClain, James Crawford and Lanard Copeland.
"I just play like I practise, I go hard, and it carries over into the games," he said.