Kansas, Kentucky phenoms in limbo
LAWRENCE, Kan. – His image on the video board evoked the loudest shrieks. And as Josh Selby trotted through the Allen Fieldhouse tunnel, fans chanted his name as they dangled their hands over the railing, hoping to score a fist bump or a high-five.
Still, as much as he appreciated the star treatment, Kansas’ freshman point guard didn’t look all that happy as he signed autographs outside the locker room following the Jayhawks’ first exhibition game Tuesday.
Who could blame him?
It’s tough to smile when you don’t get to play.
With the beginning of the season eight days away, Kansas still doesn’t know whether the key to its national championship hopes will ever be allowed to take the court.
The NCAA has yet to deem Selby eligible as it investigates whether he had an improper relationship during high school with Robert “Bay” Frazier, who is Carmelo Anthony’s business manager. Frazier served as an adviser to Selby and his mother during the recruiting process and took some recruiting trips with Selby.
Selby – who was ranked as the No. 1 overall recruit in the Class of 2010 by Rivals.com – has said that Frazier is a longtime family friend.
“We don’t know what the finish line will be,” Kansas coach Bill Self said of the NCAA’s impending decision. “Right now I don’t have a feel.”
Neither does Kentucky coach John Calipari, who is dealing with a situation similar to the one at Kansas. Center Enes Kanter, the Wildcats’ top recruit and a projected lottery pick in next summer’s NBA draft, may not get to play for the Wildcats because of his ties to a professional team in his native Turkey.
The NCAA is attempting to determine whether Kanter, who played for the team as 16-year-old, received excessive expense checks while he was a member of the squad.
“I feel bad for him,” Calipari said. “He’s a great kid. He doesn’t deserve to go through this.”
Frustrated as they may be individually, Selby and Kanter’s situations are also causing angst among their respective programs.
Seventh-ranked Kansas and No. 11 Kentucky will still be strong even if Selby and Kanter never see a minute of action. But adding those players to their respective rosters would propel each team to a different level and significantly elevate NCAA title hopes in Lawrence and Lexington.
As of now, though, the Jayhawks and Wildcats have no choice but to prepare as if they’ll be without the talented freshmen.
Self said the situation has left his team “hamstrung.”
” [Selby] is like a second-string quarterback right now,” Self said. “He’s not going to get very many reps with the first team.”
That beats the situation at Kentucky, where Kanter isn’t even allowed to practice. Kanter’s absence is big for the Wildcats, whose frontcourt was decimated when DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson left school early for the NBA draft.
As much as he’d like to have Kanter, Calipari said some people are overstating how much the 6-foot-11, 262-pounder would improve the Wildcats.
“Everyone is trying to make him out to be King Kong,” Calipari said. “People are saying things like, ‘He’ll be the best player in the country.’ Get outta here. This kid is not close – not close – to where DeMarcus Cousins was in March.
“He’s a good player. He’s got potential because of his size, and he’s got pretty good skills and all that. But when you compare him to DeMarcus Cousins … c’mon.”
The Sacramento Kings selected Cousins with the No. 5 pick in last summer’s draft. One website, draftexpress.com, predicts that Kanter will be the sixth overall selection in 2011. At the 2010 Nike Hoops Summit, Kanter scored an event-record 34 points and snared 13 rebounds for the international team.
“People are trying to say, ‘You can’t let this kid play. He’s a pro. He’s too good,’” Calipari said. “The kid just turned 18. Think about that. He just turned 18. You’re not talking about a 21-year-old man here. People talk about how he played for a professional team. He was 16 [when that happened].”
Indeed, Kanter was a seldom-used reserve for a Turkish pro team during the 2008-09 season. Nedim Karakas, the general manager of that squad, claims he has given banking and housing records to the NCAA that indicate Kanter received excessive benefits during his time with the club.
According to Karakas, Kanter and his family were provided housing for more than three years along with food and pocket money. The club claims Kanter received more than $100,000 in benefits over three years.
Kanter’s father has said he has documentation to dispute those claims. Whatever happens, Calipari is eager for the matter to be resolved.
“It’s been hard on him,” Calipari said of Kanter. “He’s doing great in school. He did great academically this summer. His father is a doctor, an educator, who works at a university. So he wants his kids to get educated.
“I just tell him to use this time to train, use this time to make sure academically that you’re where you need to be.”
While Kanter would fill a glaring need in the paint for Kentucky, Kansas would still be pretty salty on the perimeter without Selby. The Jayhawks return two-year starting combo guard Tyshawn Taylor, and seniors Brady Morningstar and Tyrel Reed are among the most experienced players in the league.
Adding Selby to the mix, though, would allow Kansas to take its up-tempo style to a new level. Self has already said that Selby is the top prospect he’s ever signed, which is a significant comment from a man who recruited Deron Williams, Dee Brown, Luther Head, Brandon Rush, Mario Chalmers and Darrell Arthur, Xavier Henry, Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich.
“He’s a guy right now that would be a starter for us,” Self said. “But he’s not a guy right now where you’d say, ‘That guy could be one of the three or four best players in the league.’ He’s not one of those guys yet.
“Will he get to that point? I don’t know. But I’m a big believer that by January or February he could be a guy that’s [really tough] to guard.”
Even Self realizes that will be hard for Selby to progress if his practice time is limited. Self said he has already informed Selby that his reps will go down in practice.
“There’s no reason to take the reps away from someone else [who is eligible to play],” Self said. “You just want to know where the finish line is, because when you know where the finish line is, you can bring him back accordingly. If you don’t know where the finish line is, he can’t get reps.”
Self said Selby and his family have provided the NCAA with all the information it has requested.
“I don’t know what [information the NCAA] has and what they don’t have,” Self said. “I’m not privy to that information. But I trust it. I think they’re very respectful … of the fact that we’re hamstrung right now. We need to get this behind us.”
Kansas fans are certainly hungry to see Selby take the court. Signs that read “Free Selby” and “Put Selby In” were spotted in the stands at Allen Fieldhouse on Tuesday. Folks have taken things a step further in Lexington, where there’s a “Free Enes” rap song.
Kansas opens the season Nov. 12 against Longwood, and Self has already said he doesn’t expect Selby to be available for that game. And no one expects Kanter to be in uniform when Kentucky plays its first game against East Tennessee State that same night.
The main hope is that the Selby and Kanter cases don’t drag out like the one involving Mississippi State’s Renardo Sidney last year. Sidney missed an entire season while the NCAA investigated whether he and his family received improper benefits during his high school career.
It wasn’t until March that the NCAA ruled that Sidney must repay $11,800 in excessive benefits before sitting out the first nine games of the upcoming season.
“I [hope] we’re going to find out really soon,” Self said. “From my perspective – and, of course, I’m biased – I’m thinking, ‘Gosh, let [Selby] play!’
“He came here to go to school and to play ball. He’s only doing 50 percent of that right now.”