With under a minute left in the game, Xavier trailed by three. A second-half lead that had seemed both insurmountable and tenuous at the same time had vanished into the ether, and now it all hung in the balance. Now Xavier ran pick-and-pop action to get their center a free look from behind the arc. With the game cradled in his massive left hand, he rose and fired...
We’ll stop there for a second. Kerem Kanter, in Xavier’s home white, ready to release. It wasn’t a straightforward path to this point for Kerem. He spent three years at Wisconsin-Green Bay, a 6’10”, 240-pound center playing in an up-tempo offense that didn’t seek to feature his skill set. His efficiency numbers were fairly average, and it was only as a junior that he averaged more than 4 PPG for a season despite playing in the Horizon League.
Still, Xavier’s staff saw something, and they brought in Kanter as a grad transfer, displacing the previously committed Brady Ernst in the process. When looking at how Kanter had performed at lower levels and how he stacked up against previous Xavier transfers, we had modest expectations.
Kerem started out in line with modest expectations. He scored four points in the team’s first games. After dropping 15 in 14 minutes against Hampton, he reversed course to the tune of 2 points in 6 minutes against George Washington. After a month of play, he was averaging 6 and 3 and hadn’t made a three-pointer yet.
That all changed in the first game of December. Cincinnati came to town and, in his first and only Shootout, Kanter answered the bell. Channeling Big Game James Farr, he sliced UC’s defense to ribbons with a silken lefty stroke, ending the game with 17 and 3 on 6-8/2-2/3-4 shooting in just 18 minutes, leading a rout that was over before the second media timeout.
It just grew from there for Kerem. After scoring 42 points in 7 November games, he had 91 in 8 games in December and 101 in 8 games in January. As the weather got colder and the competition got tougher, Kanter rose to the occasion and was - for stretches - Xavier’s best and most consistent threat.
Witness him dropping 24 and 12 in just 20 minutes in a doomed effort to drag his teammates to victory at Providence. See him, a week and a half later, hold off a game St. John’s squad by going for 22 and 13 in 23 minutes to keep the Johnnies’ guards at bay. Stay tuned for the masterclass in an OT win at Butler, dropping 22 points on 9-11 from inside the arc to give JP Macura and Trevon Bluiett the right to swagger out of the barn at Hinkle with final bragging rights over the hateful Butler crowd.
Kerem’s final numbers speak for themselves. Among qualified Muskies, he led the team in ORtg, EFG%, OReb%, DReb%, and usage rate. From a bit player in November, he rose to carry a huge portion of the load through the dog days of the season for Xavier.
That brings us back to the first paragraph. Incredibly, Kerem found himself in that exact situation twice this year. The final frame of Xavier’s season was more or less set when Kerem’s three against Florida State found nothing but floor, but that’s not how I want to remember him.
Instead, in my heart, he’s forever rising from the floor at Cintas against ETSU to complete the comeback that saved me from the untold amounts of Twitter scorn I would have reaped from the ETSU fans I had been talking garbage to all week. When he cashed out, he and I and the 10,000+ fans at Cintas celebrated together. He may have only been here for a year, but Kerem Kanter walks out with his name etched in the Xavier legendarium.