SYRACUSE, NY — Central New York joined Alaska and Iowa among Enes Kanter’s 40 obscure stops this summer. He’s hosted free basketball clinics all over the country. The idea emerged from his Trailblazers exit interview. Teammates discussed vacations. Kanter thought they cared too much about their tans.
“I just didn’t want to waste my summer,” he told CelticsBlog. “That’s why I asked my manager what the record is. He told me it’s nine by an NBA player, the most camps in the summertime. I was like, you know what? Let’s do something crazy.”
The chaos fell on Peter Dourdas, a Syracuse basketball trainer. Hank Fetic, Kanter’s manager, contacted Dourdas on Monday about coordinating the clinic on Saturday. Dourdas didn’t know Kanter personally, but scrambled into action.
Dourdas emailed 1,000 local contacts with offers to participate. Other players he trained volunteered as coaches. Kanter’s camp posted on social media, while Manlius Pebble Hill School — a private school — donated its small gym for the day.
Kanter arrived at the school, filled with 200-300 children aged 8-18, like he did countless times before. He encouraged, coached, and joked like it was his first. The games occasionally collided, with main and side baskets in use. Some players dominated the ball. Given the circumstances, Dourdas considered it a success.
Spectators spoke to Kanter in Turkish, as giddy as the kids. Syracuse’s sizable Turkish-American population views him as the rare relatable, millionaire and seven-foot NBA star. Like some of them, Kanter believes Turkey banished and separated him from his family due to his commentary about its leader.
“We have a number of families right now, their passports have been revoked,” said Timur Saka, the president of CNY RISE, where Kanter spoke on Saturday. “They cannot go back to Turkey to see their families. Sometimes their bank accounts have been frozen by the government there.”
If Kanter wanted to vacation outside the US, his revoked Turkish passport would prevent him. He affirmed he’ll be an American citizen within two years, and hopes to play in Canada next season.
He’s said in the past he doesn’t feel safe leaving America, but met Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey who’s working to secure his safe passage to Toronto games. Kanter considers Boston’s Christmas meeting with the Raptors the most special game this year.
If Saturday’s camp depicted Kanter under any description, tight-lipped did not qualify. After he rotated between six stations of three-on-three drills — posting up and passing against miniature defenders — he answered their questions.
One asked if he was sad Kyrie Irving left: “Nope. We have Kemba.”
At the Turkish community center gathering three hours later, a fan wondered about his feud with LeBron James. Kanter retorted that James disrespected Frank Ntilikina.
He urged the crowd to ask him anything, and they did. Asked if Kanter could dunk over him, he said “I can, but I won’t.”
Kanter learned about Syracuse’s Turkish population through three visits. He ate Turkish food, visited the cultural center for a coffee night last year, and spoke Turkish with the people. That prompted him to return this summer on a larger scale.
That meant 30 pizzas. Dourdas secured a discount on the pies, unsure if the gym donated to him would fit an entire region of young NBA fans.
“We didn’t know where to hold it,” Dourdas said. “Do we hold it at the Melo Center, where SU practices? Do we hold it at the Dome? We don’t know how many kids that we’re going to get.”
The gym packed too many heads for the specialized skills training Kanter usually prioritizes. He compensated with a reaction competition, where the winner received signed shoes. Dourdas left feeling that the Celtics signed someone who genuinely cares.
Kanter will host three more clinics this summer, to shatter the NBA record. After that he’ll prepare for training camp in New York. A summer of political meetings and camps left him with little time to meet or follow his Celtics teammates in Australia. He watched the highlights of their scrimmages with the Bombers. He doesn’t care about meeting more basketball players though. When he gets to Boston, he’s most looking forward to shaking hands with Mark Wahlberg.
A parent stepped up during the Q&A session to simply say thank you. The kids needed to see and hear from him, she said. Kanter agreed, adding that every child deserves to play with a pro baller.