Who needs Enes?
Kentucky 88, East Tennessee 65.
Who cares about that NCAA appeal?
After all, in battering the ETSU Bucs on Friday night in Rupp Arena, John Calipari's Cats made 13 of 26 three-pointers, got 25 points from freshman Terrence Jones and 20 points from rookie running mate Brandon Knight and celebrated their season opener in serious style.
And, oh yes, even without Enes Kanter, the 6-foot-11 Turkish center ruled "permanently ineligible" by the NCAA on Thursday, pending appeal, the Cats outrebounded the more experienced Bucs 51-33.
Yes, you read that right.
So who needs a 6-11 center who some think could develop into the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft?
I think you know the answer to that question.
"The reality of it is," said Calipari afterward, "we made shots."
Indeed, on this night, the donut team looked pretty darn delicious. Jones had a double-double, grabbing 12 rebounds to go with his game-high points total.
"What I told him after the game is, you may be our post defender," said Calipari. "You may be it."
Knight "scored the ball," as Calipari wanted, hitting four three-pointers. Darius Miller didn't get much post-game love from Calipari, but he grabbed 11 rebounds.
"He almost got a double-double, and I'm pushing him to do better," Cal said.
The Cats were an abominable 9-for-23 from the free-throw line but, hey, it's the opener.
On the other hand, the opponent was not Duke or North Carolina, but East Tennessee State. And, yes, Murry Bartow's club made the NCAA Tournament last year, losing to Kentucky in the first round. And yes, East Tennessee started a lineup of seniors and juniors and is expected to win the Atlantic Sun Conference this year. Still, Kentucky will play better.
"And I told them," Calipari said of his team, "we're not going to shoot like that every night."
So, long story short, having Kanter would be a productive plus for any team in America (or Turkey for that matter), but especially a team without a true post player.
"I respect the NCAA's decision. I don't agree with it, but I respect it," Calipari said when asked about Thursday's ruling. "I will say this, Enes Kanter is like my son or any of your sons out there. He got money from no one except his dad. He got nothing from anybody except his dad. And his dad did not do anything wrong."
Cal was careful not to criticize the NCAA's decision, almost going out of his way not to be critical, but he did say he hoped that in the appeal, "common sense" would prevail and the ruling would be overturned.
Common sense might have also told you that without Kanter, the Cats would struggle to find themselves. At least for a while.
That might still be true. On this night, however, the home team was impressive, in no small part because Jones was impressive. Surely, without Kanter, the 6-foot-8 freshman from Portland is the key. Calipari will need his scoring, his rebounding, his athleticism.
"The freshmen showed that everyone could play," Jones said afterward. "We showed how tough we are, and we can play at both ends of the floor. We just need to do all of the little things that coach wants us to do at both ends of the floor."
Said Knight of Jones, "He has to be a monster down there like he was tonight. Have the intensity that he had tonight."
Having a second monster (or UnderKanter) couldn't hurt, of course. If you say winning the appeal is a long shot, well, Kentucky nailed quite a few long shots Friday.
Chances are, in the long run, this young, smallish team can't help but suffer from lacking a talented player in the post,
On this night, however, the season's opening night, the Cats did just fine.
Reach John Clay at (859) 231-3226 or 1-800-950-6397, ext. 3226, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog at Kentucky.com.