Freshman Enes Kanter has not played this season as Kentucky and the NCAA try to determine whether he can gain his eligibility. That process is at its final stage as UK will appeal a ruling earlier this month that Kanter is permanently ineligible because he played three seasons for a professional team in his native Turkey.
Meanwhile, Kanter can practice with the team as UK prepares to make its appeal at the end of the month. As a practice player, he can help the team, several of his would-be teammates said Wednesday.
"Especially since Coach (John Calipari) says we don't do good post defense," freshman Terrence Jones said Wednesday. "That's what we've been working on, guarding Enes."
Kanter, who is widely projected as a lottery pick in next year's NBA Draft, gives Kentucky a real challenge, the players said. For a team with only 10 players for games, that's a real luxury.
"It's definitely a two-person job," said Josh Harrellson, UK's starting center in Kanter's absence. "But we get it done.
"He's making me and Eloy (Vargas) way better."
Harrellson agreed with a reporter's suggestion that Kanter was the best practice player in college basketball.
Of course, Kanter did not come to Kentucky to be a practice player. As the process to determine his eligibility dragged on this fall, roommate Harrellson said the player was annoyed.
"He hopes the appeal goes through and he gets to play," Harrellson said. "But he's happy. It's off his chest in a way. His first practice, he was all smiles (because) he was actually practicing with us finally."
Teammate Jon Hood noted how well liked Kanter is.
"I love Enes," Hood said. "So does everybody else. He's just a big clown. We wish he could play."
If the NCAA rejects Kentucky's appeal, the decision will create a problem, Hood said.
"It's a blow," he said, "but nothing we can't get past."
Sophomore Jon Hood played well enough in a recent practice to prompt Calipari to evoke the name of former UK standout Rex Chapman.
"I got really, really hot," Hood said. "I hit a few shots in a row. Then everybody stopped me and told me to do it in a game. I'll try to do it."
Harrellson recalled Hood making four or five straight shots. "Hand in the face, floaters," Harrellson said. "He was unbelievable in killing everybody."
The reference to Chapman, who led UK in the mid-1980s, was not totally wasted on Hood. "Way before my time," he said of Chapman's starring role for UK. "I'd seen video and heard everybody talk about him. Skinny. Scrawny, 6-5 freshman who could just score the ball and flat-out play. You watch the video, and that's what he did."
Leaving after Portland
Kentucky will waste no time getting to Maui. The team plans to fly to Maui Friday night after the game against Portland. The expected time of arrival is in the wee hours of Saturday morning, Hawaii time.