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May 19, 2011Enes Kanter didn't play a game in his freshman season at Kentucky.
The 6-foot-11 center couldn't hone his post moves against power forwards in the Southeastern Conference, couldn't ready himself for life on the road with games in front of howling crowds.
But Kanter -- ruled ineligible by the NCAA to play after he was found to have accepted benefits in excess of his expenses from Fenerbahce, his former club team in Turkey -- doesn't consider his year in Lexington wasted time.
In fact, he said Thursday at the NBA Draft combine that he'd do it all again, even knowing he wouldn't play. Kanter spent 17 years in Turkey and less than one on UK's campus, but when he was asked how he wants to be introduced in the NBA -- as hailing from Turkey or Kentucky -- he couldn't answer.
"I would say both," Kanter said. "I cannot decide. I would say both."
Kanter values the college experience, he said, and not just because improved his English and formed tight bonds with his former Wildcat teammates. Kanter insists he also made strides as a player in a year under John Calipari.
"In Europe, they put me in the low post," said Kanter, a probable top five pick in the June 23 draft. "Coach Cal told me, 'You are not just a center, you can play power forward.' Me and Coach Cal worked on my shot, worked on my quickness, worked on my face-up game and dribbling and everything. (He) just really helped me."
Kanter came to Kentucky with physical tools. He honed them during his time in Lexington, and he's putting them on display this week at Attack Athletics. There was considerable buzz Thursday about the athleticism he displayed in combine drills.
Though some other top prospects -- Duke's Kyrie Irving and Arizona's Derrick Williams among them -- declined to go through some workouts, Kanter participated in every drill here.
"I didn't play college, so I have to show myself to people," Kanter said. "I don't have to hide anything. I'm here. I just tried to show myself. Because I haven't played (in a) long time, I have to show myself. No one's seen me play yet."
As more NBA people do, they're likely to be impressed, said DeAndre Liggins, Kanter's former UK teammate who's also here for the combine.
"A physical specimen," Liggins said of Kanter. "A guy who works, a guy who's got tremendous footwork. A guy who loves the game of basketball."
Kanter didn't get to put those attributes on display for UK fans this season, and he's still not over it.
"It was really hard," Kanter said. "When I watched the game, I was like crying because I cannot help my team. I couldn't help my team, I couldn't help Coach Cal, Kentucky, and it was really hard for me."
When the NCAA ruled him ineligible, Kanter could have returned overseas to play professionally, but he said he never seriously considered that option. There were some hard feelings, he said, about returning to Turkey.
Someday, Kanter said, he still would like to play for the Turkish national team. But for a year, at least, Kentucky felt like home.
"I didn't want to go back to Europe," Kanter said. "I talked to Coach Cal and he said, 'You are always part of our family.' I talked to Coach Cal and I said, 'Coach, I couldn't play for you, but I want to help you. It doesn't matter. I just want to stay here. I just want to stay with my family, with my teammates and with you.' And he said 'That's your job anymore. You're just going to try to make players better.'"