Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — One of them is commonly called Big Al, the other one's nickname is Big Turkey.
And you could definitely call these two guys the NBA's latest version of "The Odd Couple."
At first glance, you'd think these two Utah Jazz big men were as different as night and day, total opposites who have completely contrasting personal backgrounds, with vastly different on-the-court talents and off-the-court life experiences.
After all, Al Jefferson is a 6-foot-10 black man who grew up in a small town in Mississippi. Soon to be 28 years old and entering his ninth NBA season, his personality is generally pretty laid back and easy going, seeming almost aloof at times.
His soft, deep voice speaks to his deep-South roots, and though he often draws criticism for being a defensive liability, his superb skills on the offensive end of the floor are undeniable.
Enes Kanter is a 6-foot-11 white center who, though he's of Turkish descent, was actually born in Switzerland. Barely age 20 and entering his second NBA season, he's still mastering the English language. Like a big, overgrown puppy, he possesses a highly energetic and enthusiastic personality which borders at times on being downright goofy.
Kanter is already a strong rebounder, going to the backboards like a man possessed, but his offensive game is still a work in progress.
And in the spirit of that great old play, movie and TV series "The Odd Couple," Jefferson and Kanter are two seemingly very dissimilar guys who have formed a close bond — the savvy, veteran mentor and the eager, wide-eyed young pupil who both share a common goal: to help the Utah Jazz win ballgames, become a better team and, hopefully, steadily climb the ladder in the NBA's Western Conference.
"I work real hard this offseason," said Kanter, who dropped 51 pounds off his 6-11 frame and will readily peel off his shirt or jersey to proudly put his new-found, finely toned abs on display. "... When I'm on the court, Big Al is always there trying to help me. Every time when I do something right, he's glad for me. And every time when I do something wrong, he's coming to me and saying 'You should do this.' So he's a big brother to me.
"He's helping me a lot on the court and also this summer. At end of the season, we went to (Peak Performance Project in) Santa Barbara and we just worked on footworks and just quickness, everything, and he just helped me a lot.
"He's a great player and he got great footworks," Kanter said of Jefferson. "Every time I'm off the court, I'm always watching him. He's always like telling me to watch him and telling me, even on the defense, when he's staying and when he's going to weak-side help, you know. He's helped me a lot."
Indeed, the unlikely relationship between Big Al and Big Turkey harkens back to that "Odd Couple" film starring the late, great Walter Mathau and Jack Lemmon — which spawned a terrific TV series starring Jack Klugman and Tony Randall — in the respective roles of the slobbish, disheveled sports writer Oscar Madison and his neat-freak (and often annoying) friend and roommate, Felix Unger.
Jefferson took Kanter under his wing during the 2012 season and in the subsequent offseason and started showing the young man a thing or two or three about how to play the post in the NBA.
And Jefferson's tutelage has certainly paid off for the big kid from Turkey, who notched impressive double-doubles in Utah's first three games of the preseason — a giant step forward for a young guy who averaged just 4.6 points and 4.2 rebounds per game in limited minutes last season.
Jefferson just smiles when asked about his budding friendship with Kanter, a.k.a. Felix Unger.
"I'm always going to give him a hard time off the court, but he's doing a great job on the court," Jefferson said. "The one thing I love about him, he listen. When you teach him something or talk to him about something, he corrects it right there. The sky's the limit for him.
"He worked real hard on his post moves and I see a lot of my post moves in his game. I work with him all the time and he always picking my brain, and I'm always in his ear. So it's good to see him go out there and show ... how he paying attention.
"He got the talent," Jefferson said of Kanter. "I'm just the guy that's doing what somebody done for me, helped me out along the way, and I'm trying to do the same for him. That's all I can do. And hopefully, he'll do it for the next rookie when he become a vet."
Jefferson's willingness to help Kanter and young Derrick Favors, the third member of Utah's three-headed monster at center, certainly hasn't been lost on Jazz coach Ty Corbin.
"It's been great the last two years," Corbin said. "They like each other first of all. They're good guys. Enes and Derrick both see how effective Al is on the post, so the stuff that he's telling them and teaching them is stuff that he uses in the game and they see how effective it can be, so why not try and integrate it into their game?
"I think he's done a great job," Corbin said of Jefferson. "He has a really good approach with Enes and Derrick, and they've responded to him."
And Jefferson has done so knowing full well that, perhaps someday down the road, one of those young guys could wind up taking Big Al's job away from him.
"It's your teammate," Corbin said. "You want the guy to grow, and as good as he gets, your team has a better chance to win. The business part of it what happens, whatever.
"I always thought as a player you owe you something back to the game by bringing the young guys on. And that's not being selfish. That's just teaching the guys what you've been effective with and seeing where they grow."
Heck, even the ever-grumpy Oscar Madison would be mighty impressed with that philosophy. And as it continues to pay dividends for the Jazz franchise, the fans will, too.
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