Yes, I’m admitting it right here. I’m guilty of seeing Jazz big man Enes Kanter as a big clown.
And I don’t think I’m alone.
• Kanter is a big, funny kid from outside this country. At age 19, the kid from Kentucky by way of Turkey is nearly seven feet tall and weighs around 250 pounds — down quite a bit from a year ago.
• Last season he was forced to wear a little pink backpack as part of his rookie initiation … and he seemed to like it.
• Not long ago he wore enormous pink hi-tops to practice. The other day he came out of morning shootaround wearing a bright yellow Sponge Bob T-shirt.
• When the Jazz were invited to the Utah-USC football game earlier this month, Kanter decided to go hang out in The Muss, Utah’s student section. Since then he’s been seen rocking U of U gear around the Jazz locker room.
• Having lost more than 50 pounds over the offseason — and developing six-pack abs — he’s constantly walking around with a big smirky grin on his face, just itching to take off his shirt for anyone who asks about his new bod.
Given all that it’s easy to see why someone might mistake Kanter for a big goofball.
The truth is, he is and he isn’t.
Nicknamed “Big Turkey” by Jazzman Al Jefferson, his teammate/mentor, Kanter has the size, quickness and strength to impact an NBA game. On the other hand, he’s a 19-year-old kid from a foreign country whose celebrity is growing as fast as his bank account.
In that regard it’s tempting to see him in the same light as former Jazz big man Kyrylo Fesenko. He, too, was a funny kid from a foreign country with size, strength and a certain eccentricity.
But Big Turkey isn’t Fes, not even close.
For all the pink shoes, backpacks and cartoon shirts, Kanter is hugely talented and deadly serious about the game.
“He’s a competitive guy, he wants to win,” teammate Gordon Hayward said. “He’s a hard worker.”
Playing against Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Derrick Favors in practice, Kanter has been forced to develop a better game. As a rookie he flashed potential and showed he had the quickness and footwork to be a legitimate NBA post player. After the season ended, team officials asked him to lose weight, develop a stronger body and improve his focus.
He did all three and then some.
“I’m always going to give him a hard time off the court,” Jefferson said. “He’s done a great job on the court. One thing I love about him, he listens. You teach him something or talk about something, he corrects it right there. The sky’s the limit for him.”
When the Jazz drafted Kanter with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2011 draft they knew he had talent and potential. Although he never did play at Kentucky (he was ruled ineligible by the NCAA because as a 16-year-old he played in a Turkish pro league) but his size and quickness were too much for teams to overlook. When he scored 34 points and grabbed 13 rebounds at the 2010 Nike Hoop Summit, scouts really began to take notice.
Had the Jazz not taken him at No. 3, someone else would have nabbed him shortly thereafter.
But I’m not convinced anyone in the organization fully understood what Kanter was about. How could they? There was very little information to go on and even less game tape.
Kanter, it now seems, is exceeding expectations. After doing exactly what was asked him in the offseason, he did even more in the preseason, leading the Jazz in scoring and rebounding. Granted, there’s a big difference between preseason and regular-season games, but it’s obvious he’s ready to for the challenge of taking his game to the next level.
And that’s no joke.