Enes Kanter was an anomaly. He was a projected lottery pick from Europe, but his intentions were to go to college in the United States, at least for a year.
This doesn’t happen in the new world order of elite, high-level foreign players. If they are on the NBA’s radar to be a possible lottery selection or first-rounder, then they are usually held in Europe before being draft-eligible. That’s what made the Kanter move so unique.
Regardless of what happens with Kanter’s appeal after being ruled permanently ineligible Thursday by the NCAA, he’ll likely be in the 2011 NBA draft. In the NBA first round this past summer, there was one foreign player selected -- France’s Kevin Seraphin at No. 17 for Chicago. He never played in college. Spain’s Ricky Rubio went No. 5 to Minnesota in the 2009 lottery. Rubio was a pro and had no intention of being an American college player.
Four other foreign players went in the first round in 2009, all of them were pros. None of them played American college basketball. The 2008 NBA draft had one foreign player in the lottery -- Italy’s Danilo Gallinari to New York. Once again, he didn’t play in college. He was a pro. Three other foreigners went in the first round in 2008. All were pros.
Do you see the trend?
Yet Kanter had every intention of playing college basketball in the United States, first committing to Washington and then switching to Kentucky.
Washington coach Lorenzo Romar first locked in on Kanter in September 2009 when the prospect was at Stoneridge Prep in Simi Valley, Calif., shortly after arriving from his native Turkey.
“We had tried to get him to come on a visit, but he didn’t have the test score at the time so he wasn’t able to visit officially,’’ Romar said Thursday night. “We had talked to him about trying to get qualified so he could join us in the second quarter in January. He had made a decision, even though he didn’t visit, that he was going to come to Washington.’’
At the time, Romar said the Huskies knew he had played in some games with pros and anticipated that he would have to sit some games.
“That’s the information we had at the time,’’ Romar said. “We had thought it was acceptable compensation. At that point, we didn’t have all the information. From the information we had, we thought he’d be OK and sit some games.’’
Romar said once the test score didn’t happen fast enough for the Huskies, the commitment faded and UW anticipated that he was going to open up his recruitment. He did and committed to Kentucky.
“We knew that whoever he played for he was going to make them an instant competitor at the highest level,’’ Romar said. “He could score and rebound so well. He’s just a really good basketball player.’’
As the information started to get funneled out, it became apparent that a roadblock probably would have hit Washington, just like it hit Kentucky.
Kanter could have signed on with the Turkish club in question again (Fenerbahce). He had played for the club for three seasons, mostly with the junior team and then on the senior team for nine games in 2008-09 before going to America. This past summer, he could have ditched the Kentucky plan and at the very least attempted to play for the Turkish National team at the World Championships in Istanbul. Instead, he kept on trying to play for the Wildcats. He was planning on going to Canada for the three-day trip with UK in August (at the same time as the World Championships), but he was ruled ineligible to participate on the trip.
Kentucky and the NCAA agreed on the facts of the case, but the NCAA based its ruling on its finding that Kanter had received $33,000 over the necessary expenses for the 2008-09 season. So Kanter was essentially ruled a professional, losing his amateur status. Kentucky is appealing and it should be noted that the appeals process goes out to a committee made up of the membership, not the NCAA staff.
Earlier this year, Ole Miss quarterback Jeremiah Masoli wasn’t initially allowed to play for the Rebels without sitting out the year in residence after transferring from Oregon, where he was dismissed. Masoli was attempting to use the waiver that tosses out the transfer year for a player who has graduated and leaves for a school that offers a master’s degree program that the previous school did not. But Ole Miss won an appeal after the reinstatement committee interpreted the situation differently than the NCAA staff. So there is always a chance that could occur in this case, too.
Kentucky took a gamble on the 6-11 Kanter, and it will hurt the Wildcats’ inside game and their prospects for winning the SEC or competing for a Final Four berth if he is not around. But there was no one else the Wildcats could have landed up front that would have equaled Kanter’s talent in this class that wasn’t already committed or signed.
In the end, Kanter was a fluke, a foreign player willing to come here first. Don’t expect him to be a trendsetter. The elite foreign player -- who is bound for the NBA draft lottery or first round as soon as he’s eligible for the draft -- will likely continue to avoid college basketball.