UK Basketball: Calipari says Kanter deserves to be No. 1 pick in draft
Enes Kanter has contended that he would be the No. 1 pick in tonight's NBA draft if he had played at Kentucky last season, and UK coach John Calipari said he agrees. (Clay Jackson)
Kanter was deemed “permanently ineligible” at Kentucky and never played for the Wildcats last season, even though he practiced with the team and took classes both semesters. He’s told media members that if he had played, he would be in line to be the top pick instead of maybe only going in the top five choices tonight.
“I do agree with him. I told all these teams he just turned 19 two weeks ago,” Calipari said Wednesday during a break from his basketball camp at Danville High School.
Calipari said understanding how young Kanter is means understanding the potential that no one got to see last year because the NCAA ruled he received improper payments from a club team in his native Turkey before coming to the United States.
“We were led to believe he was 28 years old and a professional player,” Calipari joked. “The youngest player on my team (last year), and I had six freshmen. He was the youngest. He has a long way to go. But when you are 19, you have a long way to go. But to be his size, his physique, his toughness, his mental makeup, his skill level at that age, how do you pass?
“There are other good players who deserve it, but I would say if anybody passes on him (in the draft) they are going to look back and say, ‘What was I thinking?”
Many media outlets are not mentioning Kanter’s connection with Kentucky. Calipari said that’s not the way Kanter wants it.
“What he did is he requested the NBA recognize him from Turkey and the University of Kentucky, which is kind of neat. He wants to be part of the family and is part of the family. He wants to be connected to the state and university. It’s a neat thing,” Calipari said.
Calipari thinks point guard Brandon Knight, who did help UK get to the Final Four in his only season with the Wildcats, will also be a high pick.
“I’m talking to pro teams daily. That’s my opinion from what I’m hearing. It’s good stuff,”¿he said. “The only surprise would be if anybody slipped. I¿hope there are absolutely no surprises. I think all four legitimately should be drafted.”
That includes DeAndre Liggins, who gave up his final year of eligibility, and Josh Harrellson. Both are projected in most mock drafts as late second-round picks or not being picked at all.
“I hope one of those two slip into the first round, but I just don’t know. I think they should both be drafted and I am pretty comfortable they will go in the second round,” said Calipari, who will be in Newark, N.J., for the draft as he was last year in New York when five Wildcats were picked in the first round. “The other two, if they are not in the top five, it is a surprise. That will be nine players drafted in the last two years.”
Calipari said Liggins understood the risk he took by leaving UK¿early.
“Sometimes to get drafted late in the second round, it’s better not to get drafted and then go work out for a team that you know you can make. You could end up with a team that’s not a good fit for you. He can guard three positions and defend and rebound,” Calipari said.
“It would be a heck of a thing if all four got drafted. If they all four got drafted in the first round, I’d probably retire because there’s nothing more I could do, ever.”
Calipari scoffed at skeptics who have questioned Knight, Kentucky’s top scorer last year, being such a high pick and wondering about his size, physical toughness and scoring ability.
“Let me just tell you. To play point guard in the NBA, if you cannot score, you are just a very, very average guy who won’t be in the league long. You have to be able to score,” Calipari said. “All this stuff about combo guard ... the point guard has got to be able to score baskets. If he doesn’t, he won’t be on that team long. The best point guards in the league also score, and he does. I think he will be fine. Whatever he needs, he will get stronger as he goes forward.”
Calipari noted that even Wall, 19, struggled at times in his rookie season for the Washington Wizards, and there was a big difference when it came to comparing him with rookie of the year Blake Griffin, who played two years in college and then missed his first NBA season with an injury.
“You are talking a guy who is older. John Wall was eight months out of high school (actually 18 months) and was leading a NBA team and struggled,” Calipari said. “It’s like Brandon. I told them you are going to look at Brandon each year for the next three or four years and say, ‘Thank goodness we drafted him,’ because he will just get better and better and better.
“If you are talking about comparing him to a guard who was in college for three or four years, think about what you are saying. One kid is 23 and one is 19. It’s a big difference. That’s why you look and try to project a little bit.
Calipari said those who questioned why Knight wouldn’t work out with other players didn’t know that Knight told teams he would go against Duke point guard Kyrie Irving, the projected top pick in the draft. The UK coach said Knight followed Wall, Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans to play for him and never backed down.
“The kid’s got a swagger. He’s proud of what he’s done, and so am I,” Calipari said.