Posted May 20 2011 8:18AM
CHICAGO -- Long story short? There is no such thing.
The strange saga of Enes Kanter is a long, complicated story with a long, disappointing wait, stretching from Kentucky to Turkey in a tangled tale of personal frustration and maybe professional setback.
It was then, in a private gym just west of downtown, Kanter resumed his NBA dream in earnest by participating in a group workout on the first day of basketball activity at the pre-Draft combine. He was easy to spot on the courts crowded with hopefuls. He was the guy who pretty much needed the jaws of life to get his smile through the door.
"Today was, like, so great," Kanter said later, surrounded by a couple dozen media members in a hotel ballroom. "I just tried to do my best. I just ran hard and I just tried to play hard. I hope I showed people something."
So great, and so unusual. For one thing, top prospects don't play basketball at this event when they're trying to convince front-office personnel to draft them as high as possible into a career of playing basketball. Agents prefer to wrap their clients in cellophane and protect a lottery standing by having the college star deign to join in only the mandatory physical. Kanter seemed to excitedly take part in the drills.
For another thing, he played at all. Kanter practiced last season with his sort-of teammates at Kentucky and more recently had been in workouts as draft prep. But there had been no organized games with people watching and, more than just watching, with something on the line. What took place Thursday and continues today is nothing close to a game.
But for the first time since the 2010 Nike Hoop Summit in Portland, Ore., when he had 34 points and 13 rebounds for the international squad facing an all-star team of college-bound U.S. players, his performance mattered.
There was no way to know at the time, after he finished the season at a prep school near Los Angeles and before he began the freshman year at Kentucky, that it would be the final Kanter appearance until Thursday. He expected to have a prominent role on the Wildcats -- who will also send Brandon Knight into the 2011 lottery as a one-and-done -- only to have Kanter ruled ineligible by the NCAA for receiving $33,000 in excessive benefits while playing for a Turkish club.
The final appeal was lost in January. He was done as a Wildcat without ever really getting started, the only consolation being that he remained on scholarship, continued to attend classes, and became a student assistant coach in a successful finesse of the rules that at least allowed him to practice with Kentucky.
"It was really hard because when I watched a game, I was crying because I can not help my team," Kanter said. "I couldn't help my team. I couldn't help coach Cal (John Calipari) or Kentucky. It was really hard for me."
He said he considers himself the great unknown of the Draft -- "Because no one has seen me play yet" -- but that's not really true. All the teams saw him play overseas and noted his combination of strength and skills at the Hoop Summit that this was clearly a potential star in the making. There is no mystery. There is just the uncertainty of how much rust settled in the missed season, and those concerns are easily dismissed with a series of quality workouts leading up to the June 23 selection.
NBA teams are unfazed by the excessive benefits. If anything, they are impressed he decided to stay in school rather than leaving immediately for Europe and playing there as a pro.
Kanter remains the same kind of prospect he was before being ruled ineligible: a 6-foot-11, 260-pound physical, talented center/power forward who continues to track to the top of the Lottery. He could go as high as No. 3 to Utah, with the Jazz needing to line up an eventual replacement for Mehmet Okur and general manager Kevin O'Connor a firm believer in the belief of never having too many big men. Kanter with Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson, Derrick Favors and Okur (heading into a contract year) is not a great stretch, just as Kanter with any of the next several teams in line is possible.
So, yes, he hoped he shows people something the two days here before beginning the North American tour of visiting several teams for individual workouts.
But, no, he didn't need to convince anyone.
Teams know him well enough that only a serious setback in conditioning or performance the next month will cost Kanter more than five or seven slots.
That was special to get on the court Thursday, though. It was so great.
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