Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Enes Kanter: ‘I still see myself as a Kentucky player’
GREENBURGH, N.Y. — When the NBA compiled its annual list of universities with the most players on opening-night rosters, it did not count Enes Kanter as a Kentucky product.
The NBA listed Kentucky as having 25 products on opening-night rosters, while Kentucky counts 27. The school includes both Kanter and Alex Poythress as Kentucky guys.
Poythress was a two-way player with Indiana and that’s why the NBA didn’t count him.
As for Kanter, he attended Kentucky for one year before becoming the No. 3 pick of the Utah Jazz in the 2011 draft but never played there because of amateurism issues. The NCAA declared Kanter permanently ineligible as a collegiate athlete because he received approximately $33,000 from the Turkish club Fenerbahçe in excess benefits. The NCAA ruled that this amount was above and beyond what was considered acceptable.
Still, Kanter can’t understand why the NBA doesn’t list him as a Kentucky guy.
“It’s weird, man, I don’t understand why NBA is doing that but I’m a Kentucky player,” Kanter told me on Thursday at practice, before he went for 16 points and 14 rebounds in the Knicks 120-107 win on Friday over the Phoenix Suns. The Suns also have several Kentucky guys in Devin Booker and Tyler Ulis, but not Eric Bledsoe, who is currently not with the team as they try to trade him.
“It’s just so nice, I never got to play basketball there but I still see myself as a Kentucky player,” Kanter added.
Kanter said when he speaks to Kentucky coach John Calipari, he tells him he’s part of the BBN family.
“He’s a really nice guy because when [the NCAA] said, ‘You’re permanently ineligible for basketball,’ he said, ‘You’re still part of our family’ and they made me student-assistant coach of the team,” Kanter said. “They said not even practice so they made me student-assistant coach so I could practice.”
The 6-foot-11 Kanter, who is averaging 14.1 points and 10.5 rebounds for the Knicks (4-4) after coming over in the Carmelo Anthony trade, is unique in several other ways, too.
He told me that because of his opposition to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, his family and friends back home in his native Turkey can’t watch his games. (Read more about that on The Knicks Blog.)
On top of all that, Kanter wears the No. 00 because it has special significance for him.
“Well, you see there are two zeroes,” Kanter told me. “The first zero means always stay humble and hungry. And the second zero, you know, I couldn’t play no college basketball. I was zero-and-done, so that’s what the other zero means.”
Kanter wore the No. 0 in Utah, but couldn’t replicate that in Oklahoma City, where he wore No. 11.
“I couldn’t wear no zero in Oklahoma City because it was Russell Westbrook,” he said.
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.