Commentary

Kanter benefits from eligibility changes

Updated: April 23, 2010, 3:29 PM ET
By Ian R. Rapoport | Special to ESPN.com

As soon as Enes Kanter transferred into his prep school, Derryck "Tank" Thornton began reading.

The coach at Stoneridge Preparatory School in Simi Valley, Calif., Thornton had heard the horror stories of shepherding an international basketball player toward NCAA eligibility. He had heard the tales of the NCAA withholding a player from a sizable portion of games in his freshman season because of a decision made years before he knew what college basketball was.

Thornton was determined to steer Kanter, the 6-foot-10 star from Turkey and ESPNU's No. 3-ranked center, clear of such obstacles.

"You just have to be on top of everything because the entry rules for guys who come from overseas are a little bit different," Thornton said. "You got to really mind your P's and Q's. You're dealing with different circumstances than you'll deal with for 99 percent of the kids in America."

[+] EnlargeEnes Kanter
Kelly Kline/NikeWith Enes Kanter, Kentucky adds a legitimate big man to its class.

The NCAA -- finally, some say -- is easing the restrictions on players such as Kanter, who committed to play for coach John Calipari's Kentucky Wildcats on March 23 after originally committing to Washington.

The process is under way to loosen the shackles on prospective players who had participated on teams overseas that featured professional teammates. The NCAA has essentially done away with what some call "vicarious" or "collective" professionalism, where a prospect would be withheld because he or she played with professionals, even if there was no payment above "actual or necessary" expenses.

It's looking as though Kanter won't suffer the same fate as former Turkish national team teammate Deniz Kilicli of West Virginia, who was forced to sit out 20 games because he played with Pertevniyal, a farm team for Turkish club powerhouse Efes Pilsen.

Kanter contributed to the Turkish team Fenerbahce Ulker at 16. Years ago, he would have been penalized for playing with pros. Now, he won't be because he wasn't a pro.

"To punish a kid for breaking a rule he doesn't even know he's breaking, it's crazy to me," said Thornton, who also trains NBA players. "A kid is 15 and they're saying, 'OK, you got to play on this team,' he's going to say 'OK.' He doesn't know about the NCAA rules. Then two years later, they tell him he can't play for 19 games? I definitely think that they're opening that up. It's going in the right direction."

Kanter, who declined several requests for an interview, wasn't a professional. In fact, Kanter turned down $6 million from a pro team in Turkey to attend college.

"He's not in it for the money," Thornton said. "His dad's a doctor and he comes from a good family."

Now, Kanter can benefit from the move toward an open lane for international players, one that is supported by coaches who have utilized overseas talent for years.

"I really believe that everything should be individual," said Florida Atlantic coach Mike Jarvis, who, as George Washington's coach in the 1990s, fielded teams with a Brazilian, a Dutchman, an Israeli, a Spaniard, a Brazilian and three Belarussians, among other nationalities. "There was a time when there weren't as many rules that kept kids out of competition, and it seemed like there were a lot more international players. It definitely will, once again, give more kids the opportunity."

Jarvis recalled coveting a German player, only to cease the recruitment because he had played alongside pros. Jarvis wouldn't have to stop now.

The specifics of the NCAA's process, which were enacted in this instance to promote equality across Division I, are in-depth.

One part of this particular piece of legislation is the rule on vicarious professionalism that affects Kanter. The other is a provision that withholds eligibility from players who do not enroll in college within one year of graduation from high school, provided they have engaged in organized competition.

But it is the first part, created by the amateurism cabinet, that alters the landscape of basketball. Instead of focusing on prospective student-athletes for violating their amateurism for playing on a pro team before college, the proposal judges the status on an individual basis.

"More than likely, [players who violated the old rule] wouldn't lose all of their eligibility, but they would almost definitely have to sit out games," said Joseph D'Antonio, the chair of the Division I Legislative Council. "This [new] rule no longer requires institutions to have to determine whether a team is considered professional. Instead, the focus of the institution really lies in the individual's specific situation."

There was no lightning rod of a situation that kick-started the effort. But it was time to alter the stance.

This rule was passed by the NCAA's legislative counsel in January of 2010, giving it an August 2010 effective date. That sent it into a 60-day override period, meaning if more than 30 institutions submitted an override vote, it would be re-examined by the legislative counsel. That happened.

D'Antonio suggests that the override vote came because of the provision of the second part of the rule -- that players must enroll within a year. In April, the Division I Legislative Council announced that the delayed-enrollment/organized-competition portion of the rule will not take effect until Aug. 1, 2011.

It is not a perfect rule.

"If people are going to cheat," Jarvis said, "they're going to find a way to get around it."

But more than likely, the rule change will allow Kanter to play at Kentucky immediately. The most valuable player of the 2009 U18 European Championship has game. He averaged 18.6 points and 16.4 rebounds in leading his team to a bronze medal in that tournament.

"I played with him on the national team, and he is a great rebounder," Kilicli told the Danville (Ky.) Advocate-Messenger. "I have never seen anybody rebound like that. He will get 20 rebounds like it's nothing. And for a big guy, if you can rebound, you will be an NBA prospect."

That's what Thornton said when he first saw Kanter, who draws comparisons to former North Carolina star Tyler Hansbrough. It happened at an AAU tournament that also included No. 2-ranked player Jared Sullinger and No. 11 player Josh Smith.

"I really felt like I've seen what a really good high school player looks like at 17," Thornton said. "Then this kid comes over here and changes everything. He's so polished. He's got every move around the basket you can imagine and he does it effortlessly."

The door is open for Kentucky fans to see him as soon as possible.

Ian R. Rapoport also covers the New England Patriots for The Boston Herald. Read his blog or e-mail him at irapoport@bostonherald.com.

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