Enes Kanter's 'crazy' offseason basketball camp tour ends in Boston

Enes Kanter's 'crazy' offseason basketball camp tour ends in Boston

Right around the time the Toronto Raptors were hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy in June, Enes Kanter found himself in Evergreen, Alabama, a city that’s a 75-mile ride along Interstate-65 from the nearest major airport and boasts a population south of 4,000.

While Kanter interacted with wide-eyed youth campers at one of his free youth basketball camps, a local shuffled up to inform Kanter that no one could remember an NBA player passing through Evergreen since Shaquille O’Neal stopped for a burger more than two decades earlier.

On Saturday, Kanter, who signed a two-year pact with the Boston Celtics in July, will host his 50th and final camp of the offseason at UMass-Boston. Like the others, registration is free. So are the T-shirts. And the pizza.

“When the season ended, we had a team meeting [in Portland] and then everybody was talking about, ‘Oh, I'm gonna go home and play video games all day. I’m just gonna go to the beach and take vacations all day,’” said Kanter. "For me, it was just a waste of time, you know?  So that's why I want to do something special. I asked my manager [Hank Fetic], ‘Hey, what is the record by an NBA player for the most basketball camps?’ He told me it’s nine. Nine! He's like, ‘Let's do something crazy.’”

In that moment, a 25-state, 50-camp trek was born. Fetic essentially let it be known that Kanter desired to visit and the invitations came pouring in. And not just from the places that he had played during his NBA career, like Portland, Oklahoma CIty, and New York. Requests arrived from Opelousas, Louisiana. And Fargo, North Dakota. And Anchorage, Alaska.

So Kanter booked his flights.

"These places that we pick — I don't pick, they just invite us and then we just go,” said Kanter. "We take care of everything. We take care of the flights, the hotels, the facility, the food, T-shirts, everything. For me, it's a really good experience because I never get to see this part of America. We went to Louisiana, went to Alabama, went to Idaho, Alaska … it was just so interesting because, the other [reason] I am doing this is because America gave me so much. America gave me home, and the American people, so that's why I want to give back to America, not just the city or the state I play for, I want to give back to all of America.”

Kanter cannot safely travel outside the United States. The Turkish government put out an Interpol red notice for Kanter in January, which puts him at risk of being arrested if he leaves the country. The warrant came as Kanter remained an outspoken critic of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose regime previously revoked Kanter’s passport in 2017.

Still, Kanter didn’t have to be anywhere near as ambitious as he became with his camp tour. This isn’t a player whose season ended in mid-April. The Portland Trail Blazers picked up Kanter in February, after he was waived by the Knicks, and advanced to the Western Conference finals before being knocked out by the Golden State Warriors on May 20.

By the time Kanter arrived in Evergreen, he had 13 camps under his belt. Next summer, Kanter would like to bring a camp to Guam, a U.S. territory in Micronesia that would require roughly 36 hours of roundtrip travel (a fact that he relays with impossible excitement). 

"I think the most important thing for me is just put a smile on kids faces, right?” said Kanter. "That is definitely priceless. I don't need their money. So that's why I'm doing free basketball camps. They come in, we’re having fun and, after, when I say, ‘Hey, by the way, I got free pizza for you,’  they all go crazy.

"I understand basketball is important but I think this is way bigger than basketball, to try to go out there inspire millions of kids.”

Kanter said he traveled just about every weekend in the offseason in order to put on these camps. But, as his social media confirmed, Kanter remained focus on basketball. He said most summer days he did weight training from 7-8 a.m., then engaged in basketball activity from 8-9., leaving the rest of his days free to do everything from media tours to visiting with state senators, to delivering social media jabs at Kyrie Irving, whose No. 11 Kanter will wear this season.

The Celtics signed Kanter, at least in part, because of his personality, which could take the edge off a locker room that was overly taut last season. He’s eager to provide leadership to a young group while also tasked with helping to fill the massive voids in Boston’s frontcourt after the departures of Al Horford and Aron Baynes.

"I think Celtics fans already know my game. But I think, for me, the most important thing is to be the glue guy, be the good locker room guy, be the guy who brings positive energy,” said Kanter. "I think that is the most important matter because we know we’re all good at basketball, we play in the NBA, we’re all good basketball players, talented players. For me, the most important thing is just bringing the guys together because I've been in the league for nine years. 

"I've been in the Western Conference finals twice, I've been in a lot of playoff games, a lot of crazy games. Again, try to bring the positive energy, try to be that glue guy. When things are going bad, trying to bring the team together. I think that’s what matters.”

Kanter’s status as a good teammate isn’t in question (nor is his ability to fill a reporter’s notebook) . During a visit to NBC Sports Boston recently, he said Gordon Hayward should start eyeing the All-Star game, gushed about the relief of never having to guard Kemba Walker in a game this season, and even talked up coach Brad Stevens’ basketball skills. 

Those that have lived the Kanter experience in other cities will suggest that his basketball shortcomings can sometimes balance out the positive vibes he emits. While Kanter’s defensive deficiencies can sometimes be overstated, the challenge remains for Stevens to figure out how to best utilize Kanter on that end of the floor. What Kanter brings on the offensive end — especially on the sometimes neglected offensive glass — could help balance out any of his struggles defending the pick-and-roll. 

The Celtics are hoping his locker room presence will be equally impactful and he’s ready for that vocal role.

"You gotta break the ice,” said Kanter. “Sometimes, 1-on-1 conversation is very important. I understand like, right after [games], a lot of the teams I played for, of course everyone's going to get mad because we all have tempers, we all have angers, this and that. But what I’m looking for is how can we  break the ice between us because, ‘Oh, he didn’t pass me the ball, he should have defended this.’ When the game is over, it's over. You just learn from it and you have to focus on the next game.”

Kanter, whose fame grew after he repeatedly trolled LeBron James in 2017, won’t be so accommodating with rivals. He's already warned the Celtics’ media relations staff that he’ll probably create a few issues that will become headline news. 

"Well, first time I remember meeting the PR guy with the Celtics, I shook his hand and I'm like, 'I'm sorry, first of all, I just want to apologize.’ From the beginning I was like, ‘Hey, man, I’m sorry, I’m going to make your  life very difficult.’ He said, ‘Don’t worry about it, we got you.’”

As Kanter’s attention shifts from his offseason camps to the NBA season, he hopes that PR promise is, ahem, evergreen.


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Healthy Celtics offer glimpse of what's possible in dominant win over Lakers

Healthy Celtics offer glimpse of what's possible in dominant win over Lakers

BOSTON — When his night was complete, the Celtics having built a comfortable 30-point cushion over the visiting Los Angeles Lakers with five minutes to play in Monday’s tilt at TD Garden, Kemba Walker slowly made his way down the Boston sideline dapping every person along the way.

He started at Brad Stevens, visited with each assistant coach, then all of his teammates, and kept right on going when he reached the training staff. At one point it felt like he might head straight into the crowd and start shaking hands.

For the duration of the impromptu receiving line, Walker wore his trademark smile. It's something that hadn't been quite as present in the new calendar year (truth be told, he’s always smiling but not as much as Monday night).

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Walker had missed time with the flu, then knee soreness kept him out of a game. The Celtics had lost six of eight entering Monday’s visit from the rival Lakers and it was fair to wonder if much of Boston’s early-season success had been a bit of a mirage.

Then Boston went out and produced maybe its finest effort of the season. And Walker very much reveled in the 139-107 triumph on a big stage.

"This is what we should be on a nightly basis, and what we would like to be,” said Walker. "Hopefully the way we played tonight and this win will help us build in the future.”

In the same way that there’s a danger in overreacting to a short stretch of poor play, it’d be haphazard to put too much stock into a single victory — even if it involved handing one of the best teams in basketball their most lopsided loss of the year.

Still, here’s the notion that will be hard to resist: Monday’s game offered a glimpse of what a full-strength Celtics team can be.

Boston has so rarely had all of its horses this year that it’s been hard to draw firm conclusions about the team’s potential. The injury woes made their early-season success all the more startling and, while the team never really used it as a crutch during the recent rough patch, it was fair to wonder how much injuries were conspiring against Boston when it did struggle.

Walker and Brown had been questionable leading up to Monday’s game but the team got a double shot of good news. Stevens was able to trot out his preferred starting 5 for only the 13th time in 42 games and also tightened his rotation to essentially eight players, leaning heavier on the top-sub combo of Enes Kanter and Marcus Smart instead of the batch of rookies he’s had to throw darts with lately.

The results? Boston averaged 139 points per 100 possessions, according to stats site Cleaning the Glass. That’s a mark that ranked in the 99th percentile among all games this season and was Boston’s best mark of the year. Not too shabby for a team with the sixth-ranked offense in the league.

Boston’s effective field goal percentage of 65.2 was also its best of the year, as was its offensive rebound percentage after Kanter and Co. vacuumed up 14 of the team’s 41 total misses.

Even against a Lakers team gushing with length, Boston wasn’t bashful. Thirty of its 52 makes came near the rim. Some of that was Kanter’s putback but everybody attacked the rim. No one more notably than Jaylen Brown, whose early third quarter dunk on top of James left members of Boston’s bench wobbling around the parquet like clipped bowling pins.

“It’s a great reminder [of what this team is capable of],” said Brown. "We have to hold ourselves accountable to play with this type of energy and this type of effort every night. It just can’t be against the Lakers, we got to get up and play like that against Memphis in a few days. We got to be able to be resilient, humble, poised, and continue to move forward.”

What’s different about this team when they are near full health?

"Just much more dynamic,” said Tatum, who scored a game-high 27 points in 29 minutes, then declared that his dunk over James in Game 7 of the 2018 Eastern Conference finals was still better than Brown’s jam.

"I feel like we’re tougher to guard when myself, JB, Kemba, Smart, when everybody’s out there. It makes it tougher for the other teams to guard and it makes it easier for all of us with so many guys that can do so many different things out there. Hopefully we can continue to stay healthy. Obviously, we’d love to have Rob [Williams] back, but we’ll keep it rolling until he gets back.”

For a Celtics team that sometimes let inconsistent offense affect an already slippage-filled defense, Monday was a nice reminder to stay the course. The Lakers scored the first eight points of Monday’s tilt, James tossing an alley-oop from Springfield off the opening tip, and things could have gotten out of hand in a hurry if Gordon Hayward didn’t knock down a long 3-pointer to settle the Celtics.

Hayward, whose own inconsistencies had left him in the crosshairs of frustrated fans, finished with 16 points on 6-of-12 shooting with six rebounds and five assists. He was vital in stretches, even if he won't make a highlight reel that will be dominated by Brown’s dunk, Tatum’s smooth scoring, and Walker’s tough-finish wizardry.

It’s prudent to remember that Davis was still shaking rust after missing time with a bruised backside. The Lakers certainly didn’t put their best foot forward. And, yet, the Celtics needed a game and beggars can’t be choosers.

"We needed it. We needed it. This is a really important game for us, and we treated it like it,” said Walker. "We executed. It was just one of those games to help us realize how talented we are and how good we can be and pretty much how bad we’ve really been playing.”

The Celtics learned that, when healthy, they can counteract some size issues against elite competition. That’s important considering their season-long struggles against Philadelphia. It sure feels like Monday was the best win of the season but only if the Celtics harness the positives.

"Good to be as close to full as we’ve been from a health standpoint. I’m hoping we can maintain that and build off of it,” said Stevens.

Later he added, “I want to see if we can play well with a sustained period with more bodies available and then we can gauge where we are, how good we are and all that stuff. But there’s still a lot of unknown. This is one game. Just like I think we didn’t overreact to losing the Phoenix game, we’re not going to overreact to winning this one.”

Stevens won’t overreact. The rest of us can. Like Walker, the Celtics needed something to smile about and, unlike some of the team's early-season wins, this doesn’t feel like fool’s gold.

This was a reminder of what the Celtics can do when healthy and engaged. It’s another indication that this team can hang with the NBA’s elite. Yes, a playoff series is a lot different than a random Monday night in January, but the Celtics can sweat that further down the road.

The Celtics needed something to smile about. But it won’t mean much unless they build off it.

Enes Kanter a primary source of Lakers' frustration in Celtics' rout

Enes Kanter a primary source of Lakers' frustration in Celtics' rout

BOSTON -- We're not sure how many people still call Enes Kanter "Enes the Menace."

But he certainly lived up to that nickname Monday night.

The Celtics big man tallied a double-double (18 points, 11 rebounds) off the bench with a game-high six offensive boards, out-working the Los Angeles Lakers on the glass to help Boston cruise to a 139-107 win.

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The C's were able to rout the best team in the Western Conference by capitalizing on second chances, racking up 24 second-chance points to the Lakers' 14.

Kanter set the tone in that category, snagging all six of his offensive rebounds in the first half and converting them into 12 second-chance points.

Simply put, Kanter wanted it more than the Lakers' frontcourt of Anthony Davis and JaVale McGee, which led to plenty of frustration on L.A.'s side after the game.

"That was one of the most disappointing things for me, because I feel like that's a controllable thing: boxing out and hitting people," Lakers coach Frank Vogel said when asked about Boston's second-chance points. 

"We didn't really do it all in the first half, so I'm very disappointed in that really from the total performance."

Davis, in his first game back after missing five contests with an injured backside, agreed with his head coach.

"Offensive rebounds killed us," Davis said. "They were more physical. They basically did whatever they wanted the whole night. ... We didn't do a good job of keeping Kanter off the glass."

Lakers star LeBron James put it more succinctly.

"It was a good old-fashioned butt-whooping. That's all," James said. "They beat us in all facets of the game: from the outside, the interior, points from offensive rebounds. (Those) were the main ingredients of this L."

Kanter's work in the paint also seems to be a recipe for Boston's success: The Celtics now are 7-0 this season when the 27-year-old big man records a double-double.

"He's a monster down there," Celtics forward Jayson Tatum said of Kanter. "He gets every offensive rebound and he finishes around the rim. He definitely gives us a spark off the bench that we need."

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