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Scott Howard-Cooper

Enes Kanter
Enes Kanter, the No. 3 pick in June's Draft, is slowly working his way into more playing time.
Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

Kanter, a man without a team, finally finds his in Utah


Posted Jan 26 2012 10:27AM

He really does exist, he really does know how to put on a uniform and he really does make a difference, even before he is truly making a difference. This is no mystery man.

Enes Kanter lives.

The evidence exists in the Jazz game tape and the indentations on anyone Kanter has cleared from the lane in pursuit of a rebound. And if that doesn't prove it, there is the smile visible from space, the unrestrained joy with being able to play at last.

"When I'm on the court, when I'm about to get into the game, I just feel like this is the thing I'm obsessed with," he said. "I love it and I'm finally a kid that gets to play. I'm getting really excited, I'm really happy when I'm about to get on the court."

It's a dam-break of emotions. No wonder. No one has ever been in the same place.

Kanter is an NBA rookie after a lockout, which meant no summer league and a rushed training camp. He was kinda-sorta on the team at Kentucky, though he wasn't able to play at all in 2010-11.

So Kanter has had no extensive work in professional, college or high school ball since the end of the 2009-10 season, when he was at a prep school near Los Angeles. One game with an international squad facing a group of college-bound prospects from the United States in the 2010 Nike Hoop Summit in Portland, Ore. Eight games with Turkey at the 2011 European championships in Lithuania. That's it.

The foreign collection in Oregon was an All-Star grouping, not an actual team. Kanter was on a team in Turkey, with Hedo Turkoglu, Omer Asik and Ersan Ilyasova, but it didn't last long. Kentucky should have worked, but he was ruled ineligible by the NCAA for receiving $33,000 in excessive benefits while playing for a Turkish club before going to Lexington.

The Draft approached and the best Kanter could do was remain on scholarship, continue to attend classes and become a student assistant coach in a move that at least allowed him to practice with the Wildcats.

After he was picked No. 3 overall last June, Kanter headed for Salt Lake City and worked out there during the lockout. Fellow Turk Mehmet Okur was in town, too, which helped the transition until Okur was traded to the Nets just before the regular season.

The Jazz already had Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Derrick Favors at center and power forward, along with Okur. So Kanter, rusty from a lack of game-play, was yearning for minutes.

"Not playing just throws your rhythm all off," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. "You're not used to playing with referees. You're not used to play at game speed. You can practice and play pickup or whatever you're playing, and it's a different style of play. You miss that. You've got to get your rhythm back into game speed with referees and your teammates making calls."

When Kanter finally got to play, in the exhibition opener in Portland, teammates could track his emotions with a Richter scale. He was playing with his hands. His legs were shaking. Corbin told him to calm down. Okur told him not to be nervous.

No problem. He had only waited a year and a half for a game.

It's not just that Kanter has done well under the circumstances. He has done well, period. People want to see big production, but that's not him just yet -- the averages are just 4.8 points, 5.3 rebounds, 14.1 minutes and 58 total shots.

"When I play right now, I'm thinking too much," Kanter said. "What should I do? What should I not do? If I could have played, I wouldn't think that."

He is feeling the layoff.

"Yeah," he said. "That's true. But it's a long season. I think it will come."

It is impossible to miss, though, that even with the lack of experience, even playing below the rim at 6-foot-11 and 270 pounds, Kanter is a space eater on his way to becoming a rebound machine. With his size and an understanding of positioning -- uncommon traits for a 19 year old of any experience -- he gets at least a touch on any ball close and controls any that can be reasonably expected. The 5.3 rebounds in 14.1 minutes is definitely No. 3 production.

Proof that he really does exist.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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