Did you think the Enes Kanter saga was over? It is decidedly not. That's because Kanter, after having been declared "permanently ineligible" by the NCAA Nov. 12, still has a chance to play college basketball if UK can convince the NCAA that the benefits Kanter received as a semi-pro for Fenerbahce Ulker -- $33,033, to be exact -- can be repaid in order to preserve his eligibility. It seems like a long shot, but Kentucky presented that appeal this week, and the NCAA is expected to rule ... well, anytime now, actually.
In the meantime, the Wildcats are good and anxious about the fate of their game-changing big man. From the Lexington Herald-Leader:
"I think we're all getting pretty anxious," wing Darius Miller said Thursday. "He's a great player and he'd be a huge help and asset to the team. We're all waiting like everybody else. Really, I don't have a clue when we'll find out," Miller said Thursday. "Hopefully, we do find out today."
"If he plays Saturday (at North Carolina), I don't know, that'd be crazy," freshman guard Doron Lamb said. "I know Kentucky would be happy."
And if he's ineligible? Kentucky fans will be rather less happy, that's for sure. They'll also start spending a lot of time mentioning the name Cam Newton, and not without reason. After all, this week the NCAA ruled that the star Auburn quarterback should not be ineligible for the pay-for-play scheme cooked up by his father, Cecil Newton, during Cam's recruitment by Mississippi State that was in obvious violation of NCAA rules. This is a bit baffling, given what we know about Newton's recruitment; the NCAA usually does not operate from a "scold the father, spoil the son" punitive baseline. Usually, if the family screws up in recruitment, the player is punished.
Sporting News' Mike DeCourcy, one of the leading "Free Enes" voices in college hoops, outlines what he sees as the hypocritical distinctions between the two situations as such:
One family purposefully does wrong, shredding the NCAA’s most obvious rule, and the son prospers and excels.
One family mistakenly stumbles outside the more ambiguous pages of the NCAA’s rulebook, and the son sits with the weight of permanent ineligibility draped across his shoulders.
If the NCAA wants its operation to be perceived as serious, and certainly it does given the billions at stake, there can be no option other than to order Kanter’s family to repay the amount in question and restoring his eligibility immediately, counting the six games missed as time served.
The Kanters would gladly write that check. Unlike some, they are not looking to be enriched by their son’s time as an NCAA athlete.
In fact, if Kentucky has any hope of getting Kanter eligible through the appeals process -- "permanently ineligible" didn't exactly seem promising -- it resides in the NCAA's decision to reinstate Newton. Kentucky's appeal should have used the words "Auburn" and "Cam" almost as frequently as "Kentucky" and "Kanter"; after all, it's incredibly difficult for any logical person to agree with the reasoning behind both decisions. The situations aren't directly analogous thanks to the professional implications of Kanter's time in Turkey. But at their most simple levels -- unless the NCAA believes Kanter knew about and chose to accept professional salary alongside his family -- the two decisions inherently contradict.
The NCAA might not see it that way, and Kentucky's appeal was always going to be a fingers-crossed sort of affair. But you can forgive Wildcats fans for continuing to play the "Free Enes" card, and for continuing to keep hope alive. They have the NCAA's stance on Cam Newton to thank for that.