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Enes Kanter watched from the sidelines after being ruled ineligible as a Kentucky freshman. His résumé, however, includes a dominant performance at an all-star game that impressed NBA scouts.

James Crisp, Associated Press

Enes Kanter worked out at Target Center last week.

David Joles, Star Tribune

Regarding Kanter, introductions still in order

  • Article by: JERRY ZGODA
  • Star Tribune
  • June 20, 2011 - 1:22 AM

Two years after arriving in America, Turkish center Enes Kanter speaks English fluently. But it wasn't always that way.

"When I first got here, I couldn't speak any," he says now. "My dad just taught me to say, 'Hello,' and 'My name is Enes Kanter,' and that's it."

In many ways, he's still making his introduction.

Unlike the other guy the Timberwolves most likely will choose if they keep the second overall pick, Kanter, in these weeks leading to Thursday's NBA draft, has done almost everything asked of him by NBA teams to whom the rugged 6-11 center still is something of a mystery.

Arizona's Derrick Williams worked out only for the Wolves and Cleveland -- owners of the draft's first two picks -- and went to Chicago for last month's combine for only interviews and physical testing because, after a sensational sophomore season, he said, "What do you want me to prove? I did that during the season."

Kanter, meanwhile, did every drill requested in Chicago and has auditioned for at least five teams, including the Wolves at Target Center on Thursday. He also is headed to Cleveland on Monday for a second visit with the Cavaliers -- who own the first and fourth picks -- for a simple reason: "Because no one has seen me play yet," he said.

Kanter signed to play at Kentucky last season, but never did so after the NCAA ruled him ineligible for accepting $33,000 from his Turkish club team.

He spent all year in Lexington attending classes and working as a student assistant coach and working out first with the team and then with coach John Calipari and others to prepare for the draft after he permanently was ruled a professional in January.

"I mean, it was really hard because when I watched the game I was crying because I could not help my team," he said.

He has spent the past three months working out with famed trainer Tim Grover at his Chicago gym and answering countless questions -- whether in interviews or during workouts -- from NBA teams who, foremost, have footage of his dominating performance at the April 2010 Nike Hoops Summit international all-star game to study.

A month before his 18th birthday, Kanter broke Dirk Nowitzki's World team scoring record with a 34-point, 13-rebound performance in 24 minutes against an American team that featured future NBA lottery picks Harrison Barnes and Jared Sullinger.

The U.S. team's coach called it one of the best performances he had ever seen. But Kanter now claims that scouts and his opponent didn't see the real him because of a back injury that limited him to just those 24 minutes and 34 points.

"I didn't show myself because before the game I took like four painkillers because of my back," he said. "Before the game, I wasn't sure if I was going to play or not. My coach said, 'Tell me how you're going to feel,' and I said, 'I feel good,' because I had taken four painkillers. I didn't play 100 percent."

Now NBA teams, foremost the Wolves, must decide what Kanter, who turned 19 last month, can achieve when he matures and is fully healthy.

Kanter played in Turkish pro team Fenerbahce Ulker Istanbul's development system when he was 15 and turned down multimillion-dollar pro offers two years ago to play at a California prep school because he wanted to play at an American university.

If Calipari were picking, he says he would take Kanter first because he can be a "dominating kind of player" and "a Karl Malone-type big man."

"As the league gets smaller, his ability to dominate his position will grow," Calipari wrote about Kanter on a Kentucky basketball blog posting. "He's got a position and a true size."

Calipari predicts those teams that pass on Kanter one day will look back and "wince at that decision."

"I'm biased because I love him," he wrote, "but I'm also talking in pragmatic terms."

The Wolves must decide if their need for a starting center and Kanter's combination of a crafty low-post game and nice outside shooting touch trumps Williams' promise as a combo forward for a team that already has a couple of them.

"He's a confident kid," said Wolves assistant general manager Tony Ronzone, who first saw Kanter play at age 16.

"In America, most big kids don't like playing basketball. He actually likes it. He's addicted to it. He's just got a motor. He's a quick learner. He wants to be good. He plays hard. He loves to play the game. He'll be in the gym forever."

Kanter moved to Chicago after Kentucky's season ended to work with Grover, Michael Jordan's former trainer, on the city's west side.

His agent also lives in Chicago and suggested Kanter rent a place downtown near him in the city's high-rent, high-rise Gold Coast neighborhood.

"He said, 'We'll have a lot of time to be in the high rise,' " agent Max Ergul said.

"He wants to be by the gym. What 18-year-old wants to be next to the gym rather than on the Gold Coast? That's character."

Character helps, but talent will get Kanter selected as high as second by the Wolves -- if they keep the pick -- and likely no lower than sixth by Washington on Thursday night.

Now, it's time for teams to determine just how much of each Kanter possesses.

"They're just trying to know me," he said. "I'm just telling them everything I know."

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