Friday, June 24, 2011

Enes Kanter

For the second straight year, the University of Kentucky figured prominently in a NBA Draft. Only in comparison to last year's unprecedented five first-round picks would two players taken among the first eight Thursday night seem less than extraordinary.
Enes Kanter, the would-be UK player who never got the chance to play college basketball after being ruled permanently ineligible by the NCAA, was taken by the Utah Jazz with the third pick in the 2011 draft.
By contrast to the widespread speculation that Kanter would be picked third, former UK point guard Brandon Knight slipped to the eighth pick when he was taken by the Detroit Pistons. He did not work out for the Pistons before the draft, and now will join another former UK star, Tayshaun Prince, in the Motor City.
Knight declared himself "ecstatic" to be going to Detroit.
After the Pistons picked Knight, UK Coach John Calipari tweeted, "2 down 2 to go," a reference to the other two Wildcats eligible this year for the draft: DeAndre Liggins and Josh Harrellson. They both were picked in the second round.
The next Kentucky connection in the first round was Kenneth Faried, who made history by being the first Morehead State player taken in the first round. Denver took him with the 22nd pick.
According to the Web site Hoopsworld, the NBA rookie scale called for Kanter to receive a salary of $3,552,100 next season. That might be prorated to account for any work stoppage that affects the 2011-12 season.
Kanter joins Shawn Kemp as the greatest players to commit to UK but never play for the Cats. The NCAA ended UK's drawn-out attempt to add Kanter by ruling him permanently ineligible because he received excessive compensation while playing for a professional team in his native Turkey.
The ruling made Kanter something of an unknown to U.S. basketball fans. On a teleconference earlier this month, ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla referred to Kanter as "Big Foot" and noted that there had been no more than "a couple sightings" of the big man.
After being taken by Utah, Kanter said he would dedicate his rookie season to UK fans because of their support typified by the "Free Enes" slogan this past season.
"Wow," Calipari tweeted. "... It really shows how much he loves the Big Blue Nation by dedicating his rookie season to them."
In a Skype interview with the media in Utah, Kanter said he would bring the Jazz "toughness and post moves, rebounding, everything."
Kanter noted that another native of Turkey, Mehmet Okur, played for the Jazz. "I have family there," he said. "Like Mehmet Okur plays there too, so it's kind of like my family. So I was very happy."
As for Knight, questions about whether he is a "true" point guard followed him into the draft. Earlier in the day, Knight bristled when asked on a ESPN radio show if he was a true point guard or a combo guard. "I'm a point guard," he said, pointedly.
After being taken by the Pistons, Knight again was asked if he was a point guard.
"I think I did a good job proving that this year," he said. "... I was able to lead my team to the Final Four."
Though saddled with the expectations that came with being the latest in a line of Calipari point guard sensations, Knight excelled. He averaged 17.3 points and 4.2 assists en route to being named to the Southeastern Conference's second team, a Freshman All-American and the league Freshman of the Year.
Knight was named the East Region Most Outstanding Player, in large part because of game-winning shots against Princeton (two seconds left) and Ohio State (5.4 seconds left). That he could make the clutch shots in games he hit only two of 16 attempts otherwise showed his steely nerve.
Like most freshmen, Knight needed time to hit his stride. He made only 17 of 47 shots (three of 22 from three-point range) in the Maui Invitational in November.
Going in Kentucky's Final Four game against Connecticut, Knight had improved to the tune of averaging 20.4 points and hitting 44.6 percent of his three-point attempts against opponents ranked in the top 25.