SALT LAKE CITY — Out of the Old World and into the Valley came a smiling Enes Kanter, Friday, a kid in the place of his dreams. Or at least the league of his dreams.
The Jazz's first-round draft pick made his introductory stop Friday at Zions Bank Basketball Center. He was as advertised, 6-foot-11, 260 pounds, with the reach of a banyan.
Is this the Jazz's true answer for a center? He's supposed to be. There have been so many big men that weren't. An incomplete and sometimes painful list of suitors: Luther Wright, Alan Bannister, Kosta Koufos, Goran Suton, James Donaldson, Walter Palmer, Curtis Borchardt, Mike Brown, Jarron Collins, Greg Foster, Eric Leckner, Dan O'Sullivan, Olden Polynice, Jose Ortiz and a colorful but spent Darryl Dawkins.
They even drafted 7-foot-5 lodgepole Pavel Podkolzin in 2004, but immediately traded the rights to Dallas.
Since Mark Eaton, the longest-lasting center was Greg Ostertag. He truly was a center, if a frustrating one. 'Tag missed layups, fouled out and dropped passes, though he did block shots. But if the clock was ticking, and the Jazz had to score, you didn't want him in the house.
This, then, was the honeymoon visit for Kanter, the No. 3 pick in the draft, and Alec Burks, the No. 12 pick. Both showed up at Zions Bank Basketball Center wearing Jazz-blue ties and pleasant faces. First day of class, everyone is eager. Still, it was hard to hide the optimism the Jazz have for Kanter. He has soft hands, a mid-range shot, physicality under the hoop. He runs well and has a reputedly terrific work ethic.
The Jazz already have their share of power forwards/centers that include Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson, Derrick Favors, Mehmet Okur and perhaps Francisco Elson and/or Kyrylo Fesenko. But as general manager Kevin O'Connor noted, you can't get too much size. Since the days of George Mikan, big people have ruled the realm.
"He is a different kind of center than we're accustomed to having around here," said Jazz coach Ty Corbin, noting Kanter's athleticism. "He plays every play like it's the last. And he wants to get better."
The latest version came with a refreshing touch. A pro wrestling fan, Kanter refers to himself as "The Undertaker," the name of his favorite grappler, which he morphed into "The Underkanter."
OK, maybe it's funnier in Turkish.
Kanter nonetheless resonated with fans on draft night. He said he was thrilled to be in Salt Lake and seemed to mean it. He promised on Friday to "work hard and make this team better" and added, "I believe this team will be great next year."
Music to Jazz fans' ears.
But he entertained as well as intrigued. Instead of saying he loves all sports, he said his alternative sport is ping-pong.
Try spinning that past a guy with a 7-foot-1 inch wingspan.
While there is little video on Kanter because he didn't play in college, and spent just a short time in European leagues, he's a risk. You don't get that size and talent without questions. The Jazz visited a Kentucky practice last fall, before Kanter was ruled ineligible by the NCAA. They worked him out in Chicago for two hours this spring, even slapping the 48-year-old Corbin on him defensively to see how he moved.
Kanter laughed when asked to describe the one-on-one game.
"He's really tough, really tough," he said. "And like I pushed him and he falls off."
What exactly that meant was unclear, but there was no misunderstanding Jazz general manager Kevin O'Connor's directive.
"It's time to go to work," O'Connor said.
"I just try to work hard and make this team better," Kanter said.
Nineteen years old, an answer waiting to happen.
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