Kentucky needs Enes Kanter this year. On a team that is much more well-suited to Calipari’s normal Dribble-Drive Offense than last year’s group, there is nevertheless a gaping hole. As was shown in Canada, Kentucky needs a dominating post presence, who can score from the block and allow UK’s outside shooters and penetrators to create space and dish more effectively. Enes Kanter is that guy. With his amazing footwork down low, his NBA body and an ability to hit the boards as well as anyone that will play college basketball next season, Enes Kanter is set to be a star and (as Calipari said during practice two weeks ago) “the best player on the floor” in nearly every game he plays this season. But first, he has to get eligible, and as of this writing, there has been very little movement on the Kanter eligibility front. The mystery as to why Enes has yet to be cleared by the NCAA is one that has led to worry from the fans and is a growing concern for the folks at UK. And the problem is, that it isnt clear how the core issue in question can be easily remedied.
Over the past week, I spoke with a number of sources around the program, all of whom tell the same story. The issue with Enes Kanter is one of amateur eligibility, specifically whether he received benefits while playing for a Turkish professional team that would render him ineligible to be classified as an Amateur. That is the rules problem, but the practical problem for UK is much more of an issue. The Turkish team where Kanter played and the Turkish Federation are offering no help to UK in its attempt to get Kanter eligible. The NCAA now allows for players who were on professional teams in Europe to play college basketball, so long as they were paid solely in expenses, and not in salary. Thus what the NCAA and the University of Kentucky need in order to prove eligibility, is proof of exactly how and in what form, Kanter was compensated. Did he just get living expenses, similar as to what happens at American prep schools…or was he given a salary like a full-time professional player? That question determines whether Kanter can qualify under the new rule.
However as might could be expected, only one entity has that information…Kanter’s former Turkish team. Kanter was a seldom-used reserve for the team Fenerbahce Ulker. As is the custom in Turkey, young players are signed to deals, as early as age 15 and then if they reach success, play for the professional club and are then given professional salaries when they get older (usually age 17-20). This system works in Turkey and is the method for the production of young college basketball players, instead of the American college system. The Turkish Federation wants Kanter back and has no interest in helping make Enes eligible to play American college basketball. In fact, they have the exact opposite interest. What Calipari is attempting with Kanter could have long term implications for college and European basketball. If he can bring Kanter to America, make him a Top 5 pick in one year, then the theory goes that other Europeans will follow suit at Kentucky and other American Universities. This can only hurt the European basketball leagues, who have benefitted from having young players who NBA teams want, and potentially will have to buy out of their contracts.
Thus with no incentive to help the NCAA, Kentucky, Kanter or basically anyone not in Turkey, the Turkish Federation is stalling and UK/Kanter are suffering the consequences. UK and Kanter have done all they can. They have given all the information they have and are hoping for a decision. But the NCAA wants records of what was given to Kanter by the Turkish team. If that doesnt come, it is unclear what the NCAA will do. Will they deem Kanter eligible and say all is good? Will they make him eligible, but with the understanding that if salary payments are discovered later, UK could be ineligible (making UK have to put a lot of trust in Kanter)? Or will they deem him ineligible because there is not enough proof to say one way or the other? IF the NCAA makes the last choice, then teams in Europe will have a path to be able to keep their young players from coming to America…simply dont cooperate with the NCAA or college institutions. One would think that isnt the precedent the NCAA would want, but with that institution, who knows.
So now UK and Kanter are in a holding pattern…attempting to get info from a source that doesnt want to give it. How this finally plays out will likely determine just how good Kentucky can be this coming season.