Waiting is weighing on Kentucky's Kanter

On eve of Madness, Kanter still shut out

jtipton@herald-leader.comOctober 15, 2010 

As Enes Kanter's roommate, Josh Harrellson has a front-row seat to see how unresolved questions about the University of Kentucky player's eligibility can exact a toll.

"He'll come in the room and say, 'I just want an answer,' " Harrellson said at UK's Media Day on Thursday. "He hates the stress he has to deal with right now because, you know, it's this date, then it's moved.

"He just wants an answer, good or bad. He just wants to know."

There's no timetable for when Kanter will learn his basketball fate. Recruited to be the foundation of UK's reloaded front court, he has not practiced this month. Barring a stunning development, he won't play in the scrimmage portion of Friday night's Big Blue Madness, robbing the event of its star attraction.

Kanter poked his head in the Media Day session. But UK did not make him available to reporters. Spokesman DeWayne Peevy said UK did not want to subject Kanter to the many questions that swirl around his amateur status: He played three years for a professional team in his native Turkey; he reportedly received more than $100,000 in compensation, including a monthly salary at some point; he was considered a pro by at least two prep school coaches who declined his services last year.

Before John Calipari came to his Media Day seat, Peevy told reporters that the UK coach would not entertain questions about Kanter's status. "Because he didn't want to make today just about Enes," Peevy said in a text message after the interview sessions.

Indeed, Calipari and players noted more than once that this coming season is not just about Kanter. But an anxiety that it won't be about Kanter at all hung in the air.

"I'll give up my senior season for him to play," Harrellson said. "If the NCAA would allow that, I'd give it to him."

When asked why he'd give his final season of eligibility to his roommate, Harrellson said, "I know how good he is and how much more good he can do for the team than I would do."

Kanter, who is projected as a lottery pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, is widely seen as indispensable given UK's losses in the front court after last season. Big men DeMarcus Cousins, Patrick Patterson and Daniel Orton were among UK's unprecedented five first-round picks in the 2010 NBA Draft. Another frontcourt player, Perry Stevenson, completed his eligibility.

Without Kanter, that leaves Harrellson, a career backup, junior-college transfer Eloy Vargas and freshman Terrence Jones as UK's frontcourt players.

Jones acknowledged that none of the options is Kanter.

"I definitely think there's only one Enes here," he said. "I don't think anybody will play like Enes plays."

Junior wing Darius Miller noted that Kanter represented a presence around the basket that would be difficult to duplicate. "Just how dominant a player he can be," said Miller, who added that Kanter was a mystery to fans, in part, because he did not play in Kentucky's exhibition series in Canada in August. "When they do see him, I'm pretty sure they'll be shocked."

If UK fans don't get to see Kanter play, Jon Hood insisted Kentucky would "be OK" without him. When asked if he had no choice but to speak bravely at the beginning of a basketball season, Hood said, "It's not what I have to say. I believe it. He's a great player, but we have other great players on this team as well."

Hood pointed to Duke, which won the 2010 national championship. "They didn't have a dominating guy around the basket," he said, "and they did pretty well."

Kentucky's options after Kanter seem to start with Vargas, who like Kanter is listed at 6-foot-11. But Vargas does not see himself as physically dominating. "I can go inside/out," he said in suggesting a more versatile approach. He also said he prefers to take a big defender out to the perimeter rather than try to overpower a smaller defender.

Harrellson, who averaged 4 minutes, 1.3 points and 1.2 rebounds last season, said he got a much-needed confidence boost by playing well during a summer tour of China. "Made me a new player," he said.

But Kanter represents what Harrellson called a "new dimension" for Kentucky, propelling the Cats from successful to "unstoppable."

Calipari declined to label Kanter as any more important than another UK player. All are important. All deserve the coach's attention, he said.

A moment later, Calipari went into an assessment that sounded all but identical to the Media Day comments he made last year. Young team. Tough schedule. New style of play. Likelihood of losses early in the season.

Then Calipari added, "This year I really mean it."

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