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Kanter dedicates rookie year to UK fans at draft

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Enes Kanter was the first UK player taken off the NBA Draft board Thursday night when the Utah Jazz selected him with the third overall pick. (photo by Chet White, UK Athletics) Enes Kanter was the first UK player taken off the NBA Draft board Thursday night when the Utah Jazz selected him with the third overall pick. (photo by Chet White, UK Athletics)

Enes Kanter is finally free.

The talented but scutinized Turkish center, who was ruled permanently ineligible at Kentucky by the NCAA for receiving impermissible compensation from a professional team, was selected with the third overall pick by the Utah Jazz in the 2011 NBA Draft on Thursday. The pick ends a season in which Kanter hoped but never played for UK.

"It was so difficult because I couldn't play," Kanter said. "I still didn't give up. I knew in the end I would be fine. Right now, I'm trying to help the Utah Jazz. I'm trying to bring more energy and everything."

Kanter, who was announced from Turkey and the University of Kentucky when commissioner David Stern called his name, dedicated his rookie season to UK fans after a season in which he was showered with love from Big Blue fans. 

"I want to dedicate my first rookie season to Kentucky fans because they supported me a lot," said Kanter, who served as a student assistant at UK after the NCAA ruled him permanently ineligible. "They are so special. They will always be in my heart. Kentucky is just amazing."

The selection of Kanter marks the first time Kentucky has had a player taken in the first round in consecutive seasons since 1996-2000. A record five Wildcats were selected in last year's draft, headlined by No. 1 overall pick John Wall.

Kanter will join fellow Turkish star Mehmet Okur in Utah along with a frontline of Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Andrei Kikilenko and Derrick Favors, giving Utah one of the deepest and most talented frontcourts heading into next year.

 "(Okur's) a great player and I know he will help me a lot when I'm in Utah," Kanter said on ESPN's live telecast. "I just cannot wait to play with him."

Free at last, Kanter finally has a chance to play.

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