NEW YORK - Enes Kanter is a bit of a mystery even to NBA teams picking in the 2011 NBA Draft, because he has not played in an organized game in nearly a year after being ruled ineligible for his freshman season at Kentucky for receiving compensation while playing in Turkey. Nobody really knows exactly what to expect from him at his point.
So because of his status, Kanter decided to go on the offensive during Wednesday's media session. He was exceedingly confident throughout his 30-minute interview, making a bold declaration midway through that jarred a lot of people there.
"I believe if I could have played [at Kentucky], I would go with the No. 1 pick," he said. "I believe I am the best player in this draft."
The consensus of most NBA Mock Drafts is that Kyrie Irving and Derrick Williams are the best players in this draft, with Kanter falling somewhere in the mix behind them. But there's a chance that may be changing. The Minnesota Timberwolves, who hold the No. 2 pick and already have players similar to Williams, are reportedly considering Kanter with the No. 2 pick. He could also go to Utah at No. 3 and Cleveland at No. 4, and the Wizards at No. 6 are enamored with him as well.
At first, Kanter was melancholy about his forced year off, saying it robbed him of the very reason he came to America from Turkey.
"When the NCAA told me, 'No, you cannot play,' it just makes me sad because I couldn't help my teammates, I couldn't help my coaches and I couldn't help Kentucky," he said. "I came here for an education too, because you cannot do that in Turkey. You have to pick basketball, or you have to pick education. I wanted to do both, so that's why I came here. For them to tell me, 'No, you cannot play' just makes me really sad."
Later, though, he downplayed the significance of sitting out a year.
"I'm not worried about anything," he said. "Even if I could have played, I would have just played like, 22-24 games, because we'd have won many games by 30. I don't think I missed anything."
Kanter did have to prepare in an entirely different way, though, to get to the NBA Draft. He took coach John Calipari's message that "every practice is your game" to heart, pushing himself harder then "because I couldn't play in the games." He also spent time with Tim Grover in Chicago, where he helped maintain his conditioning.
When asked about specific teams, Kanter said he would love to go to the Jazz, and was particularly enamored with the prospect of playing in Washington D.C. with the Wizards because of the presence of fellow Kentucky product John Wall and because "it's an international city, and Obama loves basketball." But he couldn't help but drift back again to the year he missed and what might have been had he stayed at Kentucky.
"We would have won the National title," he blurted out at one point.
A reporter followed up. "Easily?"
"Yes," was the immediate response.