With each day adding more distance to the last time
Kanter celebrated his 19th birthday Friday by trying to prove himself in front of an
audience at the league's combine. While Brandon Knight, his would-be former teammate from the University of Kentucky, declined to participate in skill drills, Kanter threw himself into everything asked.
"No one has seen me play yet, and no one knows me,” Kanter said. “… It was really important (to participate) because every NBA guy is here and I just try to do my best and show myself."
He'll get a chance to play in the league next season — pending a lockout. Kanter is projected as a top-10 pick by most observers, going as high as fourth to Cleveland, according to NBAdraft.net.
Former UK guard DeAndre Liggins said Kanter is ready.
“He's an animal in the low post, and he can shoot it like 15 feet,” Liggins said. “Very physical, got a big body — he's going to be a good player.”
The NCAA ruled Kanter ineligible after he accepted about $33,000 in excess of permitted compensation while playing for a professional team in Turkey, and he never suited up for UK this season.
Kanter maintained that he never handled any money, receiving only what his father gave to him. He also expressed disappointment with Fenerbahce, his Turkish team, for not helping him become eligible. He hinted it may have been a backlash for not signing a long-term deal with the club.
“They didn't try hard enough to make me play in the NCAA,” Kanter said. “I think after I left there they try to make me sign like a six-year contract. … I said my dream was always NBA. After I left, I think they got mad.”
But Kanter credits Fenerbahce for getting him prepared for the rigors of the NBA. From playing games in both the Turkish league and Euroleague, Kanter got used to the travel and physical demands. At 16, he said he was the youngest player to ever play in the Euroleague.
“That was a really good experience for me because I was playing with real pros, like 30-, 35-year-old guys,” Kanter said. “It just makes you more ready. If you cannot (play) against these guys, you cannot play.”
The last time Kanter performed before a wide audience he dropped a record 34 points and 13 rebounds in the Nike Hoops Summit game on April 10, 2010. And he did all that with a bad back.
“I couldn't show myself 100 percent because of my back,” Kanter said. “Before the game I wasn't sure if I was going to play or not.”
Kanter said he's been working out in Chicago for about six weeks with trainer Tim Grover, who has worked with Michael Jordan, Dwyane Wade and Kobe Bryant.
Grover and Kanter met during the Jordan Brand Classic international game held in Greece. It's part of the reason why Kanter feels that, despite missing last season, he's ready to play.
Since being denied eligibility, working out has been about all Kanter could do — until now. He plans on taking full advantage of the combine.
“After they made me ineligible I just didn't want to give up,” he said. “They said, ‘Right now you have to be like tough and try to get ready for the next level.' Before practice and after practice I worked with coach (John Calipari) and my strength coach every day.”
Kanter said he thinks about Calipari's last bit of advice every time he steps on the court.
“Just play hard, because no one has seen you play yet,” Kanter said. “Go out there and show everybody who is Enes Kanter.”
C.L. Brown can be reached at (502) 582-4044.