You can say this about the kid -- he sure has a nice following from the Turkish fan base.
About a-half-hour before tip-off at SuperCup at Stechert Arena in Bamberg, Germany, five guys sang and danced as their Turkey National Team took the floor. Each wore the same white silk-screen tee shirt with Enes Kanter dressed as WWE wrestler, the Undertaker on the front.
The wording underneath the picture in black bold lettering: “UnderKanter”.
Kanter’s signature adorned each shirt in black marker.
But not everyone around Kanter’s native country and even national team is so sure the rookie for the Utah Jazz and third overall pick in June’s NBA Draft is ready to leave his mark on the NBA. Certainly not right now at 19-years old and surely without major game play over the past two years after a failed college career at Kentucky.
“All the coaching staff and people around basketball think that it is too early for him to go there (to the NBA),” said Nihat Izic, an assistant head coach of the Turkey National Team told Beyond the Beat.
“He has the chance to play in the Euro League and then after that, when you feel you are ready, then you go to the NBA. He decided to go, and I’m not sure who gave him that advice. I don’t want to go there.”
Trusting Izic’s opinion on Kanter comes easily.
He’s known Kanter since he was a kid growing up in Turkey and hand picked him to be groomed for the national team.
It’s part of Izic’s role – to plant and cultivate talented basketball players in Turkey – since being assigned by the Turkish Commission for Youth Basketball to develop such a program in 1994. In addition to serving as an assistant coach for the Turkey National team, Izic was the one-time head coach of the Bosnia and Herzegovina Cadets, and coached their Junior and Men's National teams. His coaching resume includes stints with Antalya, Bursa, and Fenerbahce in the Turkish Division I, and long before he was helping develop Enes Kanter, guys like Hedo Turkoglu, Mehmet Okur, and Ersan Ilyasova among many others have played underneath Izic.
And just like those who have gone to the NBA before Kanter, Izic only wanted the best for them. That part of this whole maturation process for Kanter has not changed, even when Kanter decided to jump to the States, where he played at Stoneridge Preparatory School in Simi Valley, California.
“I was sad when he went to the United States, but they put in the newspaper that we (Turkey) were against him going to the NBA or something like that,” Izic continued. “But in Turkey, we are very proud when one of our players succeeds and just doesn’t go there to sit on the bench and they become the star on any team they go to.”
A lot has changed since Kanter dropped 34 points and grabbed 13 rebounds at the 2010 Nike Hoop Summit. He was on top of the world. Now Kanter simply considers himself, “the unluckiest guy ever” (from my feature story on Kanter with the Deseret News).
"I haven't played in almost two years and it's hard within that time to go from not playing to being ready for games," said Kanter.
Izic believes it will take time and patience to get the most out of Kanter’s potential. Fans thinking the Jazz drafted an impact player just because he was selected in the Top 5 of the draft could be mistaken and Izic hasn’t seen anything lately that’s lead him to believe Kanter is ready for the NBA – at least not right now.
“I think he understands what kind of mistakes he makes now when he comes to the real world where big guys play basketball. Those two years of not playing hurt him a little bit and he’s a little lost in space. Sure, you can practice but without playing games in two years, that’s not easy to take care of five or six things on the court at once.”
So where does Kanter go from here?
Right now, back to practice to help Turkey prepare for EuroBasket 2011 in Lithuania. Yet it’s just not Kanter who needs work. The whole national team does, proven by their 1-3 showing at SuperCup over the weekend. With Kanter, the more court time he sees, the better. It’s all for the better of polished footwork, soft hands, head smart play, court awareness and overall game time conditioning. Even if that means having to stomach stretches were Kanter merely looks like a boy amongst men.
“Over the years he’s improved and some of that is genetics. He’s very strong and very athletic and a big fighter. He motivates himself in those big game situations. But he is emotional and upset about the lockout,” explained Izic.
“He doesn’t want the money. He just wants to play.”