At a time when U.S. prospects Brandon Jennings and Jeremy Tyler have grabbed headlines for bypassing college in favor of a year or two of pro basketball in Europe, a Turkish star quietly will try to take the exact opposite route to the NBA.
Enes Kanter, 17, reportedly could have signed a five-year multi-million-dollar offer from Turkish club Fenerbahce, but he turned it down to maintain his amateur status so he can play at a U.S. college. After originally committing to Washington, the 6-foot-10 big man changed his mind and now intends to sign with Kentucky once the spring signing period begins later this week.
It's unusual for the most elite European prospects to take Kanter's path to the pros, but it could become a lot more common if a new NCAA resolution receives final approval later this month. The rule would allow athletes who have competed on a pro team but not signed a contract or received anything more than "actual and necessary expenses" to be eligible to play college basketball immediately.
Since top European prospects often play alongside pros from the age of 15 or 16 in order to get the best competition possible, many wouldn't even consider playing at a U.S. college because of eligibility concerns. For example, the most recent Turkish big man to come to the U.S., Deniz Kilicli, sat out the first 20 games at West Virginia last season because he played 13 games alongside a professional player as the member of a farm team for the Turkish club Efes Pilsen.
Based on his performance at Saturday night's Nike Hoops Summit, Kanter figures to make a far bigger immediate splash than Kilicli assuming he becomes eligible. Kanter scored a tournament-record 34 points and had a game-high 13 rebounds, nearly leading the international team to an upset victory in a matchup against a team of U.S high school all-stars.
"Thirty-four points and 13 rebounds in 24 minutes, very impressive," World Select coach Rob Beveridge said. "It's probably one of the best I've seen in a long time."
Kanter is projected as a potential one-and-done first-round pick in 2011. If he becomes eligible immediately as a freshman at Kentucky and takes advantage of the opportunity to showcase himself in front of NBA scouts, maybe others in his position will follow his lead.
- Enes Kanter