CHICAGO — While growing up, Enes Kanter knew quite well when the Jazz usually tipped off at EnergySolutions Arena.
Kanter's hometown of Istanbul, Turkey is nine hours ahead. So Kanter used to set his alarm for the wee hours of the morning to watch Turkish center Mehmet Okur play on television for the Jazz in games that usually started at 7 p.m. Mountain Time.
"I was like waking up at 4 in the morning, watching games, and then going back to sleep," Kanter said Friday at the NBA draft combine.
Much has changed since those days for Kanter, who turned 19 Friday. The big man is a top NBA draft prospect, and he could go as high as No. 3 to the Jazz.
Kanter wouldn't mind that at all. He grew up cheering for Okur. And even though the two never have met, Kanter said Okur sent him best wishes for the combine through a Jazz official.
"He talked to some of the guys on Utah and then (a Jazz official that Kanter wasn't able to recall by name) told me that Mehmet Okur said 'hi' and said 'good luck,"' Kanter said.
Kanter likely made Okur proud by playing well at the combine, which runs here Wednesday through Saturday. Kanter said he will have a workout in Utah sometime before the June 23 draft, when it will be seen if becomes Okur's teammate.
"(Salt Lake City) is a great city and a great place to play, and (the Jazz has a) really good team," said the 6-foot-10 Kanter, who said his preferred position is power forward although he also plays center. "I followed them when I was in Turkey."
Kanter went to Kentucky last year expecting to play for the Wildcats. But he was ruled ineligible due to having deemed being a professional in Turkey.
Kanter spent the season working out at Kentucky although he couldn't practice with the team. Because he hasn't played compeitive ball for more than a year he deemed the combine very important.
"No one has seen me play so it was a really good experience for me," said Kanter, who at least has some track record since he says at 16 in Turkey he was the youngest palyer in the history of the Euroleague.
In addition to Kanter, the other top candidate to be taken by the Jazz at No. 3 is Kentucky point guard Brandon Knight. He also welcomed the possibility of heading for Salt Lake City.
"I wouldn't mind going there," Knight said. "It's a great city. They always have a great group of guys. I want to surround myself with a good group of guys. I like the things Utah is about. I'd enjoy going to Utah."
It's possible Utah fans might not enjoy it as much. If the Jazz selects a point guard at No. 3, it would decrease the chances of Brigham Young point guard Jimmer Fredette being taken by Utah with its No. 12 pick.
Jazz officials interviewed Fredette on Thursday night in Chicago. Fredette, who said the questions ranged from how he would fit into Utah's system, how he ended up at BYU and what he believes are his strengths and weaknesses, came away feeling very good.
"They definitely like me. They're going to have me in for a workout," said Fredette, who said the date has yet to be set. "So I know they're definitely interested. So we'll see how it goes."
Considering Fredette's tremendous following in Utah, he's well aware many hope he sticks around. But Fredette doesn't believe it should be a popularity contest.
"That's what the people want," Fredette said of being drafted by the Jazz. "But I don't think (Jazz officials) should make the decision on what the people want. They ought to make a decision on what they think is best for their personnel. If I go there, it's great. If not, I'll be somewhere else. So I'm just looking forward to where it's at."
Fredette named the Jazz, Phoenix and Indiana as teams that "really like me." That might be good news for fans in Utah considering the Suns, at 13, and the Pacers, at No. 15, are both on the clock after the Jazz's No. 12 selection.
As for the No. 3 pick, it might be good news for Okur if the Jazz lands a guy who used to get up at 4 a.m. to watch him play.
Utah Jazz: Enes Kanter grew up watching Mehmet Okur; Jimmer Fredette says Jazz 'like' him
By Chris Tomasson, For the Deseret News