BAMBERG, Germany — Enes Kanter was only two years old in 1994 when Nihat Izic was appointed by the Turkish Commission for Youth Basketball to lead a new program for the development of young basketball players in Kanter's native Turkey.
The goal? To nurture and grow the top players in the country who would one day be able to compete for the Senior National Team and secure basketball supremacy in European basketball.
Seventeen years later, Izic is an assistant coach on the National Team and Utah Jazz rookie Enes Kanter remains one of his prized prodigies.
"I've known him since he was like this," said Izic, bringing his right hand up to his waist.
"Enes was always a big kid and pushed the other kids around. He's always had the competitive mentality. That is inside of him. And if they are patient in Utah, they will see he can be a very important player."?
Knowing the current unsettled state surrounding the NBA's lockout and collective bargaining agreement, patience most certainly is a virtue for Jazz fans — and Kanter too.
Good thing he has plenty of practice.
While it feels like yesterday since Utah selected the 19-year-old 6-foot-11, 260-pound center with the third overall pick in June's NBA Draft, it's been two years since Kanter has competed in any meaningful basketball games.
"It's easy for me to say that I am the unluckiest guy ever. I couldn't play in college, and right now there is the lockout. The only thing I can do is just wait," said Kanter, reflecting on his failed college basketball career with the University of Kentucky and head coach John Calipari.
In January, the NCAA denied Kentucky's appeal and ruled Kanter permanently ineligible as a collegiate athlete because he received $30,000 from Fenerbahce Ulker, with whom he played professionally in the Euro League before attending Stoneridge Preparatory School in Simi Valley, California.
No one ever imaged playing nine games during that 2008-09 season would cost Kanter his college career and come to haunt him the past 24 months.
"I haven't played in almost two years and it's hard within that time to go from not playing to being ready for games,"? Kanter added.
Despite tedious workouts before and after the draft with famed basketball trainer Tim Grover with Attack Athletics in Chicago, there's no substitute for in-game experience.
It affects players both physically and mentally.
"Those two years of not playing hurt him a little bit and he's a little lost in space,"? explained Izic, as Turkey prepares for the 2011 European Basketball Championships.
EuroBasket, as it's commonly known, will be held in Lithuania from August 31st through September 18th.
"Sure, you can practice, but without playing games in two years, that's not easy to take care of five or six things on the court at once," Izic continued.
Over the weekend, Kanter competed in a friendly four-team weekend series at Beko SuperCup 2011 in Bamberg, Germany featuring national teams from Germany, Greece, Belgium and Turkey
In Saturday's game against Belgium, Kanter flashed a quick drop step, scored in the paint with a soft left handed hook, and hustled back on defensive to collect a rebound. It was a glimpse of what could come in Utah alongside a young nucleus of Derrick Favors, Gordon Hayward and veterans Devin Harris and Al Jefferson.
Until then, Kanter is focused on playing for Turkey, who won a silver medal over the United States at the 2010 World Championships. They return the majority of an NBA packed roster that includes Orlando's Hedo Turkoglu, Ersan Ilyasova formerly of the Milwaukee Bucks, Chicago's Omer Asik, and Semih Erden from Cleveland.
"Playing for the Turkish National Team, there is a lot of pride at stake. You are playing with and against some real pros and I've learned a lot. It is really good for me. I'm feeling good and am just trying to get into game shape right now,"?said Kanter.
The NBA lockout now leaves Kanter considering his overseas options.
Last month Kanter's agent, Max Ergul, confirmed his client already has offers from two teams in China. Unfortunately for Kanter and other players in the Association, China may not be a final destination. The Chinese Basketball Association recently decided to block all players under NBA contract despite an earlier FIBA ruling.
So is playing in Turkey a possibility?
"I really don't know what is going to happen. Right now my focus is on playing for the national team and then after EuroBasket I will discuss my future with my agent and we shall see what happens."?
Standing outside Stechert Arena in Bamberg after helping Turkey defeat Belgium, 66-60, Kanter has two large bags of ice wrapped around each knee. His teammates wait for him on the team bus.
Kanter takes a long pause between questions to consider his basketball journey "where he's been and the unknown of where he's going. It's been a long road to haul.
"I just want to play," Kanter said quietly. I just want to play basketball."?
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