UK notebook: A few questions about Kanter case remain

Herald-Leader Staff WriterJanuary 9, 2011 

The NCAA denying Kentucky's appeal could be interpreted as the end of the Enes Kanter saga. Permanent ineligibility has the ring of finality. But UK's plan to have Kanter serve as a student assistant coach the rest of the season raises a few questions.

Quoting a source, The Sporting News reported Friday that UK sees assistant coach Kanter as a "practice player" who would also "perform limited coaching duties." Such a role will help the freshman prepare for the 2011 NBA Draft.

If true, that's 180 degrees opposed to what the NCAA intended when it defined the student assistant coach position. The role was for "a student-athlete who has exhausted his or her eligibility in the sport or has become injured to the point that he or she is unable to practice or compete ever again."

In other words, it was a favor for an athlete who had had a run of bad luck and wanted to start a coaching career. The job would be to observe and coach, but participate in practice as an instructor or occasional fill-in.

The chances of this becoming an issue are nil. No one, not even the NCAA, wants to pile on Kanter or any player in a similar situation.

For instance, the NCAA ruled Indiana's Guy-Marc Michel permanently ineligible before the season. IU made Michel a student assistant coach. No one sweats about what exactly he's doing.

NCAA critics, including UK President Lee T. Todd Jr. and Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart, have questioned the fairness of the Kanter ruling.

Fairness is a multi-faceted concept. Would it be fair to Kentucky's opponents if Kanter could play? How fair is it to UK opponents if Kanter's participation in practice makes Josh Harrellson and Eloy Vargas better players?

UK's reaction has centered on supposed inconsistency in the ruling. Presumably, this means the NCAA allowed Auburn quarterback Cam Newton and Ohio State's tattoo five to play.

One point to note: Those cases and Kanter's situation involved different areas of NCAA law. Kanter's problem was about his initial eligibility. The football players' problems were linked to improper benefits while already student-athletes.

Sketchy programs

The NCAA ruling on Enes Kanter was not the only bit of negativity to rain down on Kentucky on Friday.

UK figured prominently in the Web site Bleacher Report's listing of the 25 "sketchiest" programs in college basketball. Writer Luke Dykes ranked Kentucky No. 3 in his top 25 behind No. 2 Michigan and No. 1 Baylor.

"The Kentucky Wildcats have a rap sheet almost as prolific as their successes ...," Dykes wrote. "It all started under Adolph Rupp."

Dykes noted the point-shaving scandal of the late 1940s and early 1950s, the NCAA ordering UK not to play in the 1952-53 season, the public reprimand for failing to launch a serious investigation of the program in the 1980s and the $1,000 sent to the father of recruit Chris Mills in the Emery Air Freight envelop that forced the resignation of Eddie Sutton and his coaching staff later that decade.

"There haven't been any other sanctions on Kentucky since then, but the hiring of John Calipari has me sitting on the edge of my seat," Dykes wrote. "With his record, it may not be long before something happens in Lexington. Technically, none of the things he's done in the past have been his fault, but lots of things have gone on under his watch, so it wouldn't surprise me if something else did."

Other lowlights included:

■ No. 23 Tennessee.

"Tennessee's recent seasons under Bruce Pearl have been suspicious at best," Dykes wrote. "Pearl was recently suspended for the first eight games of SEC conference play because of 'inappropriate conduct' during recruiting and deliberately giving misleading information to the NCAA during an investigation. ...

"Last season, the men's basketball team faced adversity in the form of losing multiple players after four were arrested and charged with felony gun and drug charges.

"While this isn't quite the school's fault, it still happened under their watch and it seems suspicious that all of these things happened to occur since Bruce Pearl became coach in Knoxville."

■ Brushes with NCAA justice by programs led by Calipari at UMass and Memphis, which ranked 20th and 14th on Dykes' list.

"After leading UMass to five straight A-10 titles and a Final Four appearance, it was discovered that center Marcus Camby had accepted over $28,000 from an agent while still playing at Massachusetts," Dykes wrote. "While this isn't necessarily Calipari's fault, much like later in his career, he bolted before any of the scandal could touch him, accepting a job with the New Jersey Nets."

Dykes noted the Memphis case in which All-American Derrick Rose apparently cheated on his college entrance exam, and his brother received improper benefits.

"Once again, though, Calipari was long gone by the time the news broke, having taken a job at Kentucky," Dykes wrote.

Draft status

In a statement on the NCAA rejecting UK's appeal on behalf of Enes Kanter, John Calipari looked forward to the NBA Draft this June.

"My job will be to prepare him for his entry into the NBA Draft, which this decision by the Association will likely necessitate," the UK coach said in the statement.

According to several draft projections, Kanter can expect to be taken early in the first round. NBAdraft.net projected him being taken fifth and Draftexpress said fourth.

By the way, the projections also included Terrence Jones. NBAdraft.net had Jones being taken third (two spots ahead of Kanter) and Draftexpress said fifth.

Fletcher tours Yum Center

Before the UK-U of L game, former Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher took a tour of the KFC Yum Center. Jim Host, the chairman of the Louisville Arena Authority, guided Fletcher and former UK quarterback Derrick Ramsey through the facility.

Host noted how Fletcher got the building off a wish list and headed toward construction by forming the Louisville Arena Task Force. Fletcher also got a $75 million grant for the project, Host said.

While UK fans might grumble about U of L playing in a new arena, Host suggested they calm down and think again. The KFC Yum Center gives UK the chance to play NCAA Tournament games in Kentucky. So UK can finally follow the example of Duke and North Carolina in playing NCAA Tournament games close to home.

That could start in 2012, when the KFC Yum Center is playing host to first- and second-round games.

Host envisioned NCAA Tournament games being played in the KFC Yum Center every three or four years. As a top-seeded team, Kentucky can be expected to play post-season games in Louisville at almost every opportunity.

Two-sport player

Georgia guard Gerald Robinson played tennis as well as basketball when he attended Tennessee State. His father, also named Gerald Robinson, was the tennis coach.

Robinson played as a sophomore because freshmen being ruled ineligible left the tennis team short of players.

"They needed extra players," Robinson said. "My father, you know, I had no problem helping out.

"I actually won a match. Not too many. Just one. One out of about four. I was playing against collegiate players."

When asked if he was a tennis player, Robinson said, "Most definitely not. I don't have the background."

What Robinson lacked in technique he tried to compensate with competitive zeal.

"I have a decent forehand," he said. "My backhand wasn't too pretty. I wasn't going to win too many points. I was competitive and tried to get to all the balls."

Robinson saw himself as a baseliner. "Not much of a net player," he said. "I wasn't doing too many volleys. I never got to master that part of the game."

Communicating minutiae

John Calipari isn't the only coach who's had a problem with Twitter.

Earlier this season, Georgia Coach Mark Fox ordered his players to stop tweeting. Or as one media report phrased it, Fox wanted the players to "focus on our team" and avoid the "distraction" of communicating minutiae about themselves to the world in 140-character snippets.

"I told them, 'Right now, I don't want to hear a bunch of Twitter tweets and stuff like that,'" Fox said.

Unlike Calipari, who objected to Josh Harrellson's critical tweet, no particular tweets caused Fox to ban the use of Twitter.

"It's just that it's just another distraction," Fox said. "It's just another thing. We've got to focus on going to school, going to work, getting better and earning the respect back for Georgia basketball."

Asked how his players accepted being put on Twitter restriction, Fox said: "I don't know if they accepted it or not, (but) that's how it is."

Ironically, Fox used Twitter last season as a way of communicating with Georgia fans. He has tweeted less often this season.

"I did it to get interest back in our program, and I will still do it some," he said. "But I'm not going to tweet about whether I got up and shaved in the morning or what time I went to bed. It's just too much information.

"I do think it can be an effective tool if used right. But it still comes back to: Are you working hard enough to do what's necessary to win? And are you focused enough to do that? And that's what I want our young people to understand."

'Tear down that wall'

Count Frank Deford among the cynics who think NCAA decisions are influenced by economic considerations. So he called for the end of any pretense of amateurism.

In his weekly commentary for National Public Radio, Deford noted how allowing Auburn quarterback Cam Newton to play saved the money-making potential of the national championship game, and delaying punishment of five Ohio State football players who bartered their athletic fame for free tattoos maintained the Sugar Bowl's financial health.

(Alas, this line of reasoning, if true, did not help UK in the Enes Kanter appeal. Kentucky is off to a good start this season, thus preserving the validity of the UK brand without Kanter. The public does not feel Kanter's absence, so there is no financial incentive for his reinstatement.)

"You know what the NCAA looks like now?" Deford said. "Like the Soviet Union as it struggled to maintain communism in a changing world that wouldn't tolerate its outdated nonsense any longer. ...

"The NCAA is influenced by all the money at stake. It mouths crazy old-fashioned moral pretense, keeping its players as serfs, yet is primarily just looking after the economic welfare of its so-called educational constituents.

"Where is Ronald Reagan to holler: 'Mr. NCAA, tear down that wall of hypocrisy!'"

Forum idea withers

Faculty representative Joe Fink hoped to foster closer ties between UK's academic and athletic worlds in a series of forums. Three times a semester he planned to have professors and coaches sit together and exchange ideas.

John Calipari participated in the second forum.

Ideally, the professors and coaches would exchange views and engage in a lively debate. UK President Lee T. Todd Jr. had set bridging the gap between the academic and athletic wings as a goal.

Word came last week that Fink had dropped plans for three forums in the spring semester. Perhaps not enough professors attended. Or perhaps there wasn't much of a dialogue between the professors and coaches.

Happy birthday

To Terrence Jones. He turns 19 today.

Jerry Tipton covers UK basketball for the Herald-Leader. This article contains his opinions and observations. Reach him at jtipton@herald-leader.com.

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