SALT LAKE CITY — Enes Kanter grew up — boy, did he grow up — cheering for the Utah Jazz.
Alec Burks grew up cheering for Utah's NBA championship nemesis, Michael Jordan.
Now, the two promising 19-year-old prospects are teammates who are poised to help the Jazz return to the NBA playoffs.
After being selected by Utah in the first round of Thursday night's 2011 NBA Draft, Kanter and Burks were formally introduced as the two newest members of the Jazz family at a press conference Friday at the Zions Bank Basketball Center, where team general manager Kevin O'Connor told them that a wonderful journey is about to begin.
"I think this is the start of a journey. You're 19 years old and you've kind of fulfilled your dream now by playing in the NBA," he said, sounding very much like a philosophical guidance counselor. "Now it's time for you to understand that it's a journey, and where the journey takes you is up to you.
"You both have the ability to be very, very successful in our league. You'll get everything that we can do to support you, both on and off the court. And it's going to be your responsibility to play up to the level that we think you're capable of playing to.
"And ... as good a basketball players as they are, all our background works says they're even better people," O'Connor told the assembled media. "So that's a nice addition to be able to have talent and character, and fortunately we feel like we were able to do that."
Kanter was taken by Utah with the third pick in the draft. The 6-foot-11 center hails from Turkey, the same country that brought Jazz fans another similar-sized big man in Mehmet Okur, who played in only 13 games last season in the aftermath of suffering a torn Achilles tendon during the 2010 playoffs, then battling ankle and back problems after his return to the lineup.
Due to their admiration for Okur, Kanter and his family used to wake up at 3 or 4 a.m. just to watch Jazz games on television.
"I'm so happy to have him here because I know he will help me a lot because we both from Turkey and we both play the same position," Kanter said. "They love Memo in Turkey because of his personality. First of all, he's a great personality. That's why they love him, and he's also a great player. He's like Dirk (Nowitzki) in Turkey."
Kanter and Okur have never actually met, but that's about to change very soon.
"I heard he called me, but I was in press conference," Kanter said in slightly broken English. "I will call him after press conference. I'm looking forward to it, yeah. ... I think he will help me a lot; he will teach me lots of things. ... Memo's a great guy."
Burks, a 6-6 shooting guard, was the 12th pick in Thursday's draft. He averaged 20.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game last season as a sophomore at the University of Colorado, where he earned Big 12 Conference Freshman of the Year honors in 2009-10.
He admitted he doesn't know a great deal about the Jazz, but promised to get up to speed — something the quick kid should have no trouble doing.
"Everybody knows about John (Stockton), Jeff (Hornacek) and Karl (Malone), you know, and Bryon Russell," Burks said. "Everybody knows about 'The Shot.' That's about as much as I know. I can't wait to learn more and more about their history.35 comments on this story
"I was a Michael Jordan fan," he said. "I wasn't a Bulls fan. Everybody was a Michael Jordan fan. I guess they really didn't like him around here."
No, they don't. But who could blame Burks for admiring MJ, the man who ruined Utah's NBA title hopes in 1997 and '98? After all, Burks' middle name is Michael.
He also admitted he had a little trouble sleeping on Thursday night.
"It's hard to sleep when you just made your dream come true," he said. "I just can't wait to begin this journey."
Jazz fans probably feel the same way.