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Kanter throwing out the first pitch:
Enes Kanter is a basketball talent who wasn’t allowed to step on a basketball court for UK. He’s played thousands of basketball games in his life, but none this year.
Kanter had never thrown a baseball before, but here he came to throw out the first pitch before a UK baseball game. Turkey doesn’t have the sport. Kanter warmed up in the UK bullpen a couple times, and then it was his turn to take the real mound, wearing a UK Baseball tee-shirt. He strolled out, the Undertaker theme song playing in the background, and one-hopped it to the plate.
“The coach tried to teach me a little bit, but it’s too hard,” Kanter said. “Before the game I tried to throw a tennis ball, but it’s too hard.”
What may have been even harder, though, was sitting out the whole basketball season. When the NCAA ineligibility ruling was first made, Kanter said he was sad, but his teammates and coaches encouraged him to not give up. He watched the Final Four and couldn’t help but think that UK could have won the title with him playing. Watching from the sidelines was a result of being ruled ineligible by the NCAA, a result of taking $33,000 of excessive benefits.
“I didn’t think I did something bad,” Kanter said. “I just came here for school, for education. When I was in Turkey, I was only 14, 15, 16 years old. I didn’t know anything. I didn’t understand, money-wise. I only took money from my dad.”
Kanter became an undergraduate student-assistant coach. Some games he sat on the end of the bench and recorded statistics. He became known as “Coach Kanter.”
“Coaching is hard. Really hard,” Kanter said. “(Although) I didn’t actually coach, just stats or something. But I can understand Coach Cal now, the stress and everything.”
In practice, Kanter continued his role working with Josh Harrellson and Eloy Vargas on their post games. The work paid off in the NCAA Tournament, when Harrellson played a critical role in getting UK to the Final Four. That included a win against Ohio State, in which Harrellson played against Freshman of the Year Jared Sullinger.
“Before the Ohio State game in the practice [Harrellson] told me, ‘I will try my best.’ I said, ‘I believe you,’” Kanter said. “And he did a great job.”
Kanter said he is going to finish classes, and then go to Chicago to work out with Tim Grover — who trained Michael Jordan — in preparation for the NBA Draft. It’s been a whole season since he’s seen game action, and he’s waiting to get back on a basketball court as more than the practice player he’s been since August.
“I hope next year I can play finally and can step on the court,” Kanter said. “My last game was last year’s Hoop Summit, last April.”
Kanter was regarded as a lottery pick before the year began. He still is, but the possibility of his stock falling because of the year-long absence from actual game play has materialized. Regardless of whether or not that might happen, Kanter is out to prove in his workouts it shouldn’t.
“I will just try to do my best, show everybody, because no one has seen me play yet, so I have to show everybody.”
And if basketball somehow didn’t work out, Kanter probably wouldn’t use baseball as his second option.
“It’s fun to watch, but I don’t want to play,” Kanter said. Kanter talked to UK ace Alex Meyer before the game for tips. “He (throws) fast. Like 98 (mph) or something like that. I asked him, how about mine? He said about 30.”
A quick fashion note: Kanter said he did not own a “Free Enes” tee-shirt, although he said he loved that Kentucky fans supported him throughout the year even as he was unable to play. He also said he owns a pair of jorts — but when asked if he wore them, he definitively said: “Umm, no.”