Former Kentucky practice star and current New York Knick Enes Kanter had quite the journey to get where he is today. After coming over from Turkey, Kanter had a back-and-forth battle with the NCAA, who eventually declared the 6-foot-11 center ineligible for receiving money as a professional athlete back home.
Even without Kanter, the 2010-11 Wildcats made it to the Final Four before falling to Kemba Walker’s Connecticut Huskies, who went on to win the title.
For Kanter, the team, and the Big Blue Nation as a whole, it only makes you wonder what could’ve been.
Our very own Aaron Torres had the opportunity for a sit-down interview with Kanter about his time at Kentucky and the NBA, where that exact topic came up.
If Kanter was eligible? Kentucky would have another banner, “100-percent.”
Check out the transcript of the entire conversation, followed by the link to the Aaron Torres Sports Podcast:
On what the fans at Kentucky meant to him:
I remember even when I couldn’t play at Kentucky, the whole state was doing ‘Free Enes’ signs everywhere. The cups, the flags, everything, that was awesome. That shows how much that the people around love you. And that was awesome for me because I came from Turkey. And for Americans to just respect you that much, it was like ‘You know what? I’m not going to Europe to play basketball. I’m staying right here.’
His fight with the NCAA:
It was tough because I was 16-years-old turning down a million dollars, a million dollars to come and play NCAA basketball.
[They, the club, paid] expenses [that it].
It was tough for a 16-year-old kid turning down a million dollars to come here and play college basketball. And then when they say ‘You can’t play college basketball’ it was so frustrating for me.
First, they said ‘you can practice with the team.’ And then they said ‘You cannot even practice with the team anymore.’ The NCAA said ‘no more practicing with the team.’ They made me ineligible permanently.
His fight with the NCAA:
It was still a process.
*** We even told the NCAA, ‘let me sit my first year and play my second year.’ Yes [I was willing to stay a second year]. I told them [that]. And then they said ‘you cannot even practice with the team anymore.’ So Kentucky hired me a special coach and I was working out with him by myself. It was so frustrating I remember.
*** Then the news came out. I woke up and it was on ESPN, ‘Enes Kanter, permanently ineligible. He can never play college basketball ever again.’ It was so frustrating. I came here to play college basketball.
*** And then I sat down with Coach Cal, and Coach Cal told me ‘hey if you want to leave, you can leave to Europe and go play somewhere. But if you want to stay, we are your family.’ And then I said ‘Coach, I want to stay, but I cannot even practice with the team, how am I going to stay?’
So they made me a student assistant coach. I was a coach. I was a 17-year-old coach, 18-year-old coach. I think I was maybe the youngest coach in NCAA history. So they made me a coach and Coach Cal and all the coaches said ‘this is your game. Every practice is your game. So go as hard as you can, try to get ready for the draft.’ Because the NCAA said ‘you’re never going to play.’
I was an assistant coach, so I could practice.
I remember all my buddies were out there playing basketball, and I was down there sitting on the bench taking notes as an assistant coach. Taking notes. It was so frustrating. I had to go to the draft because I couldn’t play.
His entire journey:
Even before that, I tried to go to Findlay Prep in Las Vegas. They told me ‘you’re a professional, go somewhere else. Then I went to Mountain State in West Virginia. Then the same, thing. I stayed there two or three weeks and they said ‘Go somewhere else.’ Then I came to Simi Valley, California, prep school. Rules are different here so I could play here.
Couldn’t play high school, couldn’t play in college and then finally I got drafted in 2011, I was the third pick because I killed it in the combine and everything. And then I remember a week later the news came out, there’s a lockout. So no high school, no college, no NBA. I was like ‘they don’t want me to play basketball in America. Americans, don’t want me.’
Would they have won the 2011 national championship if he could play?
For sure. 100 percent. We went to Final Four, we lost to UConn. We even beat Ohio State with Jared Sullinger. I definitely think [we would have won it all]. And we still talk about it today. Doron [Lamb] came to see me in New York, and we were like ‘Man, if I had played we would have won the national championship.’ I love my teammates.
You can easily listen to the podcast on the KSR App, available on iTunes and Google Play. Streaming online is simple through Pod Paradise. You can also get it directly to your phone by subscribing to the Aaron Torres Sports Podcast feed on iTunes or via Android’s Podcast Addict app.