SALT LAKE CITY — Mehmet Okur was among the blasts from the Jazz past who returned to Utah to honor Jerry Sloan last week.
The retired center hopes to focus on someone else in his next trip to his old NBA stomping grounds.
Enes Kanter, have some free time?
“I’d like to take him out and talk to him a little bit, see what happens, try to help him a little bit more,” Okur said. “That’s what I’m going to do the next time I come to town.”
Memo, as fans and friends call him, played for the Jazz from 2004-11, establishing himself as a premier outside-shooting big man who paired nicely with power forward Carlos Boozer’s strong paint presence.
A nasty Achilles injury in the 2010 playoffs set the end of the 6-11 Okur’s career in motion, but he was able to provide a mentorship role for fellow Turkish big man Kanter for a few months before being traded to the Nets on Dec. 23, 2011 and eventually wrapping up a nice NBA run.
Okur still keeps close tabs on the Jazz along with spending time being a father, playing golf, doing Pilates, hanging at the beach and basking in the San Diego scene.
Kanter, who grew up admiring his compatriot on the court, still cherishes the time they had together during his rookie season.
A smile emerged on the face of the 21-year-old Jazz player when he was told that Okur said he wants to come back and tutor him.
“I hope so. That would be really nice,” Kanter said Saturday night after amassing 23 points and 14 rebounds in the Jazz’s 102-87 loss to the Clippers at Staples Center on Saturday.
The two Turks shared a brief greeting Friday at EnergySolutions Arena, but they didn’t have time for much of a conversation because the Jazz played the Warriors and the Sloan festivities were going on.
Memo sent Kanter a text, telling him he wants to grab a bite to eat the next time he comes to Salt Lake. Kanter said he'd be more than willing to absorb more from Okur, a learning experience that could be similar to his visit to Louisiana to train with Karl Malone last summer.
“Learning from a guy like (Okur), it would be really good,” Kanter said. “We both play similar positions, shoot, and I think it would be really good.”
While growing up in Turkey, Kanter would stay up late or wake up early to watch Okur and the Jazz on TV. Becoming teammates gave them even more of a bond. The younger Turk remains proud that Okur was the first NBA All-Star from their country.
"I respect him a lot," Kanter said. "When he was here, I came (and) he treated me really good. He’s like a big brother."
The respect is certainly mutual. That’s why Okur wants to help Kanter fully tap his potential.
Playing that good big-brother role, Okur might have some tough-love advice for Kanter.
"He could improve a lot. I thought he was in better shape last year," Okur said. "This is a great opportunity for him. (With) him and (Derrick) Favors playing (a lot of) minutes every game, it definitely could be better."
Kanter’s shoulder-surgery rehab was an obstacle for him coming into his third season in prime playing shape, but Okur wants him to realize the importance of fitness. That’s one thing he remembers most about playing for Sloan, and it’s the story he shares when asked to give a lasting memory of his coach of seven years.
“The first time I got here I was out of shape. I thought I was in shape, but I wasn’t,” said Okur, who signed with Utah from Detroit in 2004. “He (Sloan) was just giving me a hard time and a hard time every day until I get in shape. Finally, I realized it’s going to be a long seven years, so I’d better come in every year in good shape.”
There are other aspects of the game and pointers Okur wants to share and help the other Big Turk refine, so he looks forward to returning to his second home soon to do that. It means a lot to Kanter, who's averaging career highs in points (12.0), rebounds (6.2) and minutes (25.4) but has had defensive lapses and stretches of offensive ineffectiveness.
"He’s a really nice guy," the young Jazz center said.
It wasn’t at all surprising that Okur came back to celebrate Sloan’s career with Karl Malone, John Stockton, Howard Eisley, Bryon Russell, Mark Eaton, John Crotty, Thurl Bailey, Matt Harpring and Co. Two-plus years removed from his Utah playing days, Memo wouldn’t have missed a chance to be there for the man he calls “the best coach ever” on Jerry Sloan Day.3 comments on this story
“I really can’t thank him enough for what he (has) done for my career,” Okur said. “As a player, as a person, he was just there every time I needed him.”
Paying it forward to Kanter might be the greatest tribute Okur could give to the man he came to honor last Friday night when that “1223” banner was lifted to the rafters.