Like much of the state of Kentucky we have spent much of the off-season wondering whether or not Turkish super-recruit Enes Kanter would be declared eligible by the NCAA this season. As late as Tuesday morning it appeared that the NCAA would make a ruling regarding his eligibility within the next two weeks. Typically when the NCAA is ruling on a freshman’s eligibility the focus is on the student-athlete’s academic eligibility, but despite only spending one year in a US school Kanter appears to have been declared academically eligible. The real issue comes from questions over whether he is still an “amateur” due to his time playing semi-professional basketball for a Turkish team during the 2008-09 season. Earlier, Kanter stated that he had not received any money while playing in Turkey. However, today the New York Times’ Pete Thamel reported that Nedim Karakas, the general manager of Fenerbahce Ulker (Kanter’s previous team) had given Kanter more than $100,000 in cash and benefits during Kanter’s time with the team. For his part, Kanter (through his adviser Max Ergul) has stated that this should not affect his eligibility as the amount spread out over his three years with the team is “like any other kid who goes to prep school and gets the $30- or $40,000 scholarship.”
While we wait on Kentucky, Kanter, and the NCAA to sort this out it is worth pointing out the one potentially seedy part of the story — Fenerbahce Ulker’s potential ulterior motive for providing this information to the NCAA. According to most reports, Kanter did not leave the team on the best of terms as his decision to go to the US for high school and then college meant that not only had the team lost one of the top junior prospects in the world, it had also lost out on the opportunity to collect a large transfer fee if he were to go to another European basketball team. If Kanter were to be declared ineligible by the NCAA, it is expected that he would head back to Europe to play while waiting to enter the NBA Draft. His signing with a European team would trigger that transfer fee resulting in a large cash windfall for Fenerbahce Ulker, the same people who are trying to provide the NCAA with information that would make Kanter ineligible to play for Kentucky. When questioned about this conflict of interest, Karakas responded by saying “I am sorry for telling this for Enes, but we cannot lie if someone asks the whole story, we cannot hide. . .This is real, and the NCAA’s main goal is to protect the amateur side of sports.” To be fair to Karakas and Fenerbahce Ulker, Kanter’s previous playing background was enough to scare off such high school basketball powerhouses such as Oak Hill Academy and Findlay Prep from adding a player that many analysts consider the top young interior player in the world.
The NCAA’s decision on Kanter will be a huge determinant of the Wildcats’ success this season as he would fill a void left by the departed DeMarcus Cousins and provide the Wildcats with the spark they need on the inside to help them advance deep into the NCAA Tournament. At the present time the only statement that the University of Kentucky has released about the situation is as follows: “The University of Kentucky is working diligently with the NCAA on this matter and we fully support Enes Kanter and his family through this ongoing NCAA review. We will have no further comment.” Meanwhile, John Calipari, who has been quite active around the state of Kentucky this off-season, has not issued a statement on the recent news although we will be keeping an eye on him to see if he says anything.
This much we know. The burden will rest with Kentucky to prove that Kanter is indeed eligible, and that any payments he took from Fenerbahce Ulker were actual and necessary to only cover his (reasonable) expenses and did not rise to the level of a salary. The organization notably did not provide Thamel documentation of the “salary” that was paid to Kanter, so if they’re truly blowing smoke on this in an effort to destroy Kanter’s amateur status, presumably the NCAA would know this. KSR breaks down the key questions to focus on in this matter, and but at a certain point (presumably after UK makes its best arguments) it will be the NCAA that has to make the difficult decision as to how much is too much when it comes to whether payments made to Kanter were merely expenses or a full-timer’s salary.