October 16, 2011

Big Blue exhibition game: Enes Kanter will get to play at Rupp after all

LEXINGTON, KY. — Most of the details of the Big Blue All-Stars vs. The Villains exhibition basketball game on Oct. 24 at Rupp Arena were already out by the time organizer Jeff Sheppard held his official press conference Thursday afternoon to announce the event. But Sheppard, a former University of Kentucky player, had one big surprise up his sleeve.

“I have a very special announcement that just developed,” Sheppard said. “We have an addition to the Big Blue All-Stars. I’m so excited to announce that he’s going to be playing for us because unfortunately this year he was not able to wear the blue and white and represent the University of Kentucky.

“And so for the first time playing on Rupp Arena’s floor, Enes Kanter will play for the Big Blue All-Stars. (That’s) as good as we could do. We’re super excited to have him on our team.”

Kanter, a 6-foot-11 Turkish player ruled permanently ineligible by the NCAA last season before he ever played for the Wildcats, was taken with the No. 3 overall pick in the NBA draft by the Utah Jazz. Because of the ongoing NBA lockout he, along with the long list of other professional stars expected to participate in this game, was available.

Sheppard, who stressed that none of the rosters are set in stone, also expects the Big Blue All-Stars — coached by former Wildcat Rex Chapman — to include John Wall, Rajon Rondo, Nazr Mohammed and DeMarcus Cousins, among many others.

Sheppard said he’s “working really hard” to get former Florida player Joakim Noah on The Villains roster, which is being coached by Christian Laettner and is expected to include former North Carolina star Tyler Hansbrough and Duke’s Nolan Smith. Sheppard said he’d also consider asking Bruce Pearl to be an assistant coach to get a “Tennessee flavor.”

There’s one major caveat to this game, for which tickets go on presale today and full sale Monday.

“If the (NBA) lockout ends, this whole tour ends,” said Sheppard, whose Big Blue All-Star team begins a five-game tour against small state colleges on Saturday and concludes with the big event in Rupp. “That’s beyond our control, but if the lockout ends, the tour ends — immediately. That would just be a tough break.”

Organizers are optimistic, though. During the press conference, Sheppard showed a pro wrestling-style promotional video in which Laettner taunts UK fans. He, of course, hit the last-second shot to beat the Wildcats in the 1992 East Regional final of the NCAA tournament.

“Hey Kentucky fans, remember me?” Laettner says in the video. “Yeah, you remember. How could you forget? … The Villains are going to stomp the Big Blue All-Stars again, just like in 1992.”

Laettner spoke to reporters on a conference call Thursday and said he’s excited to be part of the event in part because proceeds benefit The V Foundation, of which he’s been a longtime supporter. He said it’s also because he misses the roar of the crowd — even if it’s against him.

“I want to be part of that. I miss that,” he said. “I’m 42 now and I’m getting it less and less. When you retire from the NBA, you don’t get much cheering and booing.”

Laettner figures to get plenty of the latter when he comes to Rupp. Sheppard said T-shirts that say “I Still Hate Laettner” and “Laettner Sucks” are available at bigblueallstars.com. Laettner approved of both shirts.

“He’s been a good sport,” Sheppard said. “I still don’t like him.”

Laettner said he understands the “utter resentment and disdain” UK fans have for him, and he doesn’t hold it against Big Blue Nation.

“I never have and I never will. I think I realize where it comes from,” he said. “It’s kind of a compliment when you get booed so heartily, I think. There’s a thin line between love and hate.”

Big Blue exhibition game: Enes Kanter will get to play at Rupp after all
Ineligible Wildcat will be with All-Stars against Villains Oct. 24
12:28 AM, Oct. 7, 2011

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