On Tuesday, Turkish big man Enes Kanter committed to play for Kentucky. (Luca Sgamellotti/Getty Images)
On the eve of the first round of the NCAA tournament, with the nation focused on March Madness, a game-changing piece of amateurism legislation quietly took a step closer to entering the NCAA rulebook. The school with the most to gain from it, in the short-term, is Kentucky.
NCAA proposal 2009-22 would allow international athletes who've played on teams with professionals, but not received compensation, to become eligible immediately, rather than face lengthy suspensions under current rules. Proposal 2009-22 was adopted at the NCAA convention in January, and passed a March 17 override deadline without the requisite number of objections from universities. It's slated for final approval in April, three weeks after the national title game.
The rule would go into effect on Aug. 1 as "exception 184.108.40.206.1," stating that, "In sports other than men's ice hockey and skiing, prior to initial full-time collegiate enrollment, an individual may compete on a professional team, provided he or she does not receive more than actual and necessary expenses to participate on the team."
That would clear the way for John Calipari's 2010-11 Wildcats to immediately have the services of one of the most high-profile European club prospects ever to jump to U.S. college basketball: 6-foot-9 Turkish forward Enes Kanter, who was the MVP of last summer's Under-18 European Championships.
Kentucky received a commitment from the 17-year-old Kanter on Tuesday, just six days after 2009-22's override deadline. Kanter made his first appearance in the U.S. at the international game of the Jordan Brand Classic in April 2008, and was originally committed to another school with powerful Nike ties, Washington, before re-opening his recruitment in February. He attended Stoneridge Prep in Simi Valley, Calif., this season, but SI.com confirmed that he played part of 2008-09 for Turkish club team Fenerbahce Ulker, appearing in four Euroleague games and five Turkish Basketball League games alongside pros, despite being just 16 years old at the time.
Kanter reportedly maintained his amateur status in Turkey, turning down a five-year, multi-million-dollar offer from Fenerbahce, as well as a two-year deal from Greek club Olympiakos. But if the NCAA rulebook stays as is, he could be suspended for a portion of his freshman regular season due to those club appearances.
The most recent Turkish prospect to come to the U.S., West Virginia freshman Deniz Kilicli, was forced by the NCAA to sit out the first 20 games of this season. The reason? As an amateur playing for Pertevniyal, a farm team for Turkish club powerhouse Efes Pilsen, Kilicli played 13 games alongside former George Mason star Lamar Butler, who was being paid. The suspension prevented Kilicli from cementing a spot in the Mountaineers' rotation; despite having enormous potential, he's played just 11 minutes in their two NCAA tournament games.
If Kanter can come to Lexington and be eligible from Day 1, he'd be able to fill the center position that's expected to be vacated when DeMarcus Cousins declares for the NBA Draft, and join sophomore-to-be Daniel Orton on a formidable front line. Kanter told Scout.com that he chose Kentucky "because of John Calipari. He's a good coach. I like the way he plays. I like the freedom."
Proposal 2009-02 needs to pass two more bureaucratic hurdles to free Kanter to suit up for the Wildcats next November: The NCAA's Legislative Council must approve it at its April 19-20 meetings in Indianapolis, and then it gets a final review by the Division I Board of Directors on April 29. If it hits a snag in either of those meetings, then Kanter would be subjected to Kilicli-like treatment. For someone who made the bold decision to pass on European club riches and pursue the American path to the NBA -- and has stated in the Turkish press that he hopes to enter the draft in 2011 -- that would not be an ideal way to start life in Division I. (For more on the potential impact of Proposal 2009-22, read my Sports Illustrated story on Gonzaga's Elias Harris from February, which looked at the rise in high-level international recruiting.)