For what seems like an eternity now, we’ve waited and waited and waited some morefor the NCAA to determine if Enes Kanter will play for Kentucky this season. The Cats have endured one ruling, filed an appeal and, now, await the NCAA’s findings on the “new information” submitted to them over a month ago. For Kentucky fans, it’s been a daily battle waged on the F5 key and growing frustration with an organization that has found itself under fire lately. But, is there some good to be found in the waiting game?
It’s tough to look at the performance of Josh Harrellson and not think that there’s at least a little silver lining. You’re very aware of all the ways that Jorts has blossomed in his first season as a starter, so I’ll spare you all (or at least most) of that rambling. But, where would he (and the team) be at this point had Kanter been able to play? The record might be a game or two better, but, at this point, 12-2 is about as good as anyone had expected. Kanter would likely be getting about 30 minutes per game and serve as the focal point of the offense. Harrellson’s Twitter fiasco and subsequent development might not have occurred as backup player. Doron Lamb might not have had the chance to grow offensively with, you could presume, less dribble-drive getting him open looks. Would Terrence Jones have blossomed into an All-American player early in the year? Tough to say. It’s all speculation anyway and we can leave that up to a certain curmudgeon beat writer.
But, what you can say confidently at this point is that this team has grown by leaps and bounds. Think back to beginning of the year. Kentucky wasn’t just touted as a team that would struggle with their rebounding and their depth, they were a team that was going to be majorly exposed by it. There weren’t enough big bodies around and the ones that were in uniform weren’t nearly talented enough. It was in every magazine and on every website. Kentucky was deficient in the post and it would keep them from being a legitimate contender for the national championship. The notion that the inside presence of Josh Harrellson and Terrence Jones could not only develop into a strong suit, but also, arguably, the team’s most consistent trait, was a goofy one. Yet, fourteen games into the season, here we are. They’re the best rebounding duo since 1971-72 and have not been overmatched by a frontcourt yet.
It’s not as crazy to think now as it was in the preseason that Kentucky could make a run to the Final Four. They’ve developed an inside presence and a fluid offense that wasn’t supposed to be present without Kanter. You won’t find most people putting them in their top two or three teams, but nearly everyone would agree that this team could find a six-game run in themselves in the spring. Think back to the preseason again. Crazy, huh? It all goes back to that development from the guys who weren’t supposed to be major factors.
Of course, the difference in having a player like Kanter is a major one, no doubt, and I’m not trying to say that adding him would simply be a luxury. Guys with that type of talent aren’t luxuries or the icing on the cake. They’re difference makers. But, it doesn’t seem to be an isane notion to think that this team, having not had him available, is better suited to make a run should he return than they would have been if he had played from the outset. When he was ruled ineligible, the accountability and responsibility of every player on the roster drastically increased. To this point, their play seems to indicate that they’ve responded positively. So, maybe the NCAA is doing us a solid. Maybe?
But the NCAA still sucks. #FreeEnes #EternalOptimism