Kanter makes Rupp Arena debut as Villains defeat All-Stars 152-149



Enes Kanter looked down the line of seats on the Rupp Arena sidelines. Which one was he confined to last year, when he was forced to sit the bench all season after the NCAA ruled him ineligible?

Kanter pointed to a seat marked No. 15.

“Right at the end of the bench,” Kanter said.

At Monday night’s Big Blue All Stars vs. Villains exhibition game, Kanter’s name was finally announced over the PA system — and he got a seat further up the line.

“Right now, I’m finally getting a chance to play here at Rupp,” Kanter said before the game. “That was my wish.”

His debut was mixed — 14 points, 10 rebounds and one monster blocked dunk attempt from Kenneth “Manimal” Faried. (Seriously. Faried has T-shirts that say “Manimal.”)

“I just couldn’t jump high enough,” Kanter said.

He said before the game he was “nervous,” and he looked like he had heard the hype about his return and wanted to appease the crowd.

“I hadn’t played any games in almost two months,” Kanter said. “I wish I was in game shape more so I could have showcased more (for the fans).”

But he, and the rest of the Big Blue All Stars, got the cheers, which came surprisingly loud from the half-full crowd and culminated when Laettner came out to the floor, got on all fours and wiped up sweat. It was a move he said was improvised when he heard fans shouting at him to mop it up — so he did, although he got no help from Chuck Hayes, who wicked some extra sweat from his forehead.

“I let him know he was missing a couple of spots,” Hayes said.

As for the basketball, it was definitely exhibition-quality — nothing is wrong with that. The score was 74-68 at halftime (halftime!). Big men were liberated to shoot as many threes as they wanted (Nazr Mohammed, who has never made a 3-pointer in his 13-year NBA career, hit his first attempt of the game). Former Louisville player Terrence Williams, after pausing on a breakaway for effect, blew a wide-open dunk.

All Stars coach Rex Chapman had to juggle a lineup that saw John Wall come late and not play, DeMarcus Cousins sit out the second half eating a sucker with ice packs on his legs and Brandon Knight hobbling off the court after tweaking an ankle.

“I think (Chapman) has a future in coaching,” Hayes said. “But he needs a star so he doesn’t have to do too much coaching.”

Hayes looked like he needed backups so he didn’t have to do as much running.

He was asked after the game how close he was to game shape.

“Not close yet,” Hayes said with a laugh. “I won’t be in game shape ‘til I play games.”

When the game looked like it was going into overtime, officials had to improvise what they would do. So they threw up four minutes on the clock and let it play out.

The Villains ended up winning 152-149, and Jodie Meeks missed a buzzer-beater that would have tied the game. He did have an absurd 42 points on 30 shots, absurdities which continued into the box score. The Villains scored 96 points in the paint. The Big Blue All Stars scored 74 points off the bench.

“If you didn’t have fun, man,” Hayes said, “you can go home and watch Monday Night Football.”

And now, the exhibition games — starting with the Pros vs. Dominican Republic game and continuing through the small-schools tour — fade away.

As does Kanter. He’s heading back to L.A. to work out with trainers and fellow NBA players. Work out, and wait. He can’t do anything else. He hasn’t been able to do anything else for the past two years.

“When I was watching games last year, I kept thinking about if my name could be called,” Kanter said in the locker room afterward.

He got it Monday.