November 11, 2010
Kentucky received a ruling on Enes Kanter's eligibility before its season opener just like it wanted. The NCAA's long-awaited verdict just wasn't the one the Free Enes sect had been seeking all these months.
Sticking with the hard-line stance it has adopted in recent months, the NCAA ruled Kanter permanently ineligible for receiving $33,033 more than his living expenses during the 2008-09 season with a Turkish club team. Kentucky will appeal the NCAA's decision in hopes of getting the penalty reduced.
"We appreciate that the NCAA has an appeals process to allow this young man to defend the uniqueness of his circumstances," Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart said in a statement. "Enes is great kid who is working hard in the classroom and enjoying being a college student. It is our hope that he will be allowed to continue his academic and athletic career at Kentucky."
The apparent loss of Kanter is a devastating blow to Kentucky's hopes of winning the SEC this season or contending for a Final Four.
Kanter was perhaps the best big man in the Class of 2010 and the Kentucky player most capable of replacing the interior production of Patrick Patterson, Daniel Orton and DeMarcus Cousins. Without him, the only two Wildcats taller than 6-foot-8 would be seldom-used senior Josh Harrellson (6-10) and junior college transfer Eloy Vargas (6-10), meaning Kentucky will have to remake itself as an up-tempo, pressing team to contend nationally.
From a bigger picture perspective, this decision could make college coaches hesitant to recruit European prospects playing for club teams overseas. The NCAA recently relaxed rules that once rendered kids who played alongside paid professionals ineligible, yet the Kanter situation suggests that recruiting prospects from such a background may turn out to be more trouble than it's worth.
The statement the NCAA released Thursday somewhat contradicts the story Turkish general manager Nedim Karakas told the New York Times this summer that Kanter had received more than $100,000 in salary and benefits.
According to the NCAA's statement, the organization first contacted Kentucky and Kanter in March 2010. In June, the NCAA provided Kentucky with documents suggesting Kanter received benefits from the Turkish team and in August, Kanter and his father "acknowledged receiving those benefits."
Barring a successful appeal for Kentucky, Kanter will likely focus on preparing for the 2011 NBA Draft. He is projected as a potential lottery pick.
Maybe the only blessing here for Kentucky is that the NCAA made a ruling on this before the season rather than clearing Kanter to play and then retroactively vacating the games he played in and declaring him ineligible.
It's a small consolation, but at least it's something, right?