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By LARRY VAUGHT
What once looked such a promising basketball season for Kentucky now suddenly has a dramatic turn.
Freshman center Enes Kanter has been ruled Ã¢â‚¬Å“permanently ineligible for receiving benefits above his actual and necessary expenses while playing for a club basketball teamÃ‚Â in TurkeyÃ¢â‚¬Â by the NCAA.
That means the Wildcats go into their season opener tonight against East Tennessee State with only 10 players, including walk-on Jarrod Polson who was put on scholarship, and no clear indication where post offense, defense and rebounding will come from.
The NCAA had been investigating KanterÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s eligibility almost from the time he signed with Kentucky. He played three seasons with a professional club team in Turkey, but insisted he did not take a salary Ã¢â‚¬â€ a ruling the NCAA apparently accepted.Ã‚Â However, he was found to have received about $33,000 over the allowable amount for expenses when he played for FenerbacheÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s senior team in 2008-09 before he came to the United States to attend a California prep school.
But hereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the real kicker based on info reported by Mike DeCourcy of The Sporting New. DeCourcy wrote: Ã¢â‚¬Å“According to a source close to the process, about $20,000 of that money was used by the Kanter family to pay for KanterÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ educational expensesÃ¢â‚¬â€such as schooling and tutorsÃ¢â‚¬â€with the remainder still sitting in an account unused. The NCAA told the family that Fenerbahce would have needed to pay for those expenses directly for them to be permissible. The Kanters made it clear they were willing to return the available fundsÃ¢â‚¬â€and even repay the 20 grand because they werenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t aware of NCAA procedures and regulationsÃ¢â‚¬â€but the staff declined the offer.Ã¢â‚¬Â
So much for logic and fairness at the NCAA. Money spent on education is not an allowable expense for a 16-year-old kid. Give me a break.
NCAA student-athlete reinstatement guidelines allow Kanter to resume practicing but not compete or travel with the team while the appeal is pending, ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s why so many UK fans were excited earlier Thursday when Kanter was seen getting ready to practice with UK for the first time since Oct. 15 when the Cats started preseason workouts. But how sensible is it that Kanter could not practice while the case was being reviewed and now that he is ineligible he can practice?
Coach John Calipari refused to say anything then other than Kanter would not play tonight Ã¢â‚¬â€ and heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not expected to make any statements until after the Cats play tonight. The guess is that will be his one and only time to talk about KanterÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s situation until after an appeal is heard.
The university will appeal the decision to the Division I Student-Athlete Reinstatement Committee at the end of November. The reinstatement committee is the final appeal opportunity in the initial-eligibility process.
What are KanterÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s chances?
Probably not good, but then again itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s unlikely UK would be seeking an appeal if it did not think there was a chance to win. And remember that most folks at UK had been confident all along Kanter would eventually be ruled eligible even if many coaches across the country were saying it would never happen.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“If there is a silver lining, it would be that at least Enes is allowed to practice during the appeal process. Even if he canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t play, there will be about a month during the appeal process where he can help make Josh (Harrellson) and Eloy (Vargas) better. At least he will be on the court helping the team improve in practice. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the one silver lining,Ã¢â‚¬Â said David Scott of coachcal.com.
No disrespect to coachcal.com or Scott, but my guess is that the Big Blue Nation is having a hard time seeing any silver lining when a key part of John CalipariÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s No. 1 recruiting class is now likely out for the season.
ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not to say UK doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have talent with freshmen Brandon Knight, Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb to go with juniors Darius Miller and DeAndre Liggins, but the Cats lack depth and experience. They lack a dominant post player. And they have to feel a bit taken aback not having a player most Cats termed a Ã¢â‚¬Å“beastÃ¢â‚¬Â when it came to rebounding.
Scott says he expects Kanter to stay at Kentucky during the appeals process.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t think heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll leave. I got the impression he will see the appeals process through. After that, there will be decisions to make. If say can play, then he obviously will stay. If not, then Enes and his family have decisions,Ã¢â‚¬Â Scott said.
ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not an extraordinary amount of money Ã¢â‚¬â€ probably about the amount a player like Lamb received in tuition and expenses at Oak Hill Academy last year. KanterÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s family apparently tried to pay the money back once it realized what had happened but the NCAA said no. And the NCAA has no clue that European teams are structured to dole out expense money in this fashion to make players ineligible in the United States.
There apparently was no proof that Kanter received a salary as a team executive had alleged in a New York Times story. This came down to what expense money was allowed and what was excessive Ã¢â‚¬â€ and maybe an appeal based on money for school should not be excessive does make sense to UK officials and really could have a chance to succeed.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I am speaking for myself. I am not speaking on behalf of coach Calipari or the university, but the real loser is Enes HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a great kid with a great heart. It has been tough to see him having the team practice without him,Ã¢â‚¬Â Scott said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“At least now there is going to be closure. When the appeal happens at least he will know if he ever gets to play for Kentucky and thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s something.Ã¢â‚¬Â
However, ThursdayÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s news certainly was not what Kentucky fans wanted to hear even if many might have been fearing thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s exactly what they were going to hear.
All the high expectations for UK this year were based on having Kanter. Now Calipari has a solid team, but not an Elite Eight team. Probably not even a team that will win the Southeastern Conference.
Then again, maybe the underdog role will suit him. Kentucky wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t be the Ã¢â‚¬Å“Super BowlÃ¢â‚¬Â for every opponent now and Calipari can maybe turn that underdog status into a rallying cry for this team.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“You know Cal. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a fighter,Ã¢â‚¬Â Scott said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll use the underdog role. He wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t roll over. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s still got talent. His kids will want to show this team is about more than Enes if he doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t get to play. The journey might be a little different now, but donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t expect Cal to give up. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s never done that and never will.Ã¢â‚¬Â