Although Enes Kanter exhibited remarkable basketball ability, high school powerhouse Oak Hill Academy and two other schools passed on the chance of having him play for their teams. Two of the coaches said Wednesday that Kanter's association with a professional team in his native Turkey was the reason.
Oak Hill Academy Coach Steve Smith said that playing with a professional team made Kanter a risk.
"I've been here 26 years," Smith said. "I try to do things the right way. I felt it would be perceived wrong. His age was right. He's a heck of a player. But I didn't want to do anything to jeopardize the program."
Michael Peck, the coach at Findlay Prep, said he feared a public relations problem with having a professional player on the team.
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"Kevin Durant is not going to play for some high school now," Peck said.
Neither Smith nor Peck said he had any knowledge of Kanter being paid or receiving any compensation when playing for the Istanbul-based team Fenerbahce Ulker.
A story in The New York Times Wednesday quoted Fenerbahce Ulker general manager Nedim Karakas as saying Kanter and his family received between $100,000 and $150,000 over a three-year period.
Fenerbahce Ulker officials have shared housing and bank records with the NCAA, The New York Times reported. The NCAA's Eligibility Center is reviewing Kanter's amateur status to determine whether he should be ruled eligible to play for Kentucky this coming season.
UK has declined comment except to say it supported Kanter and his family as the player waits to see if the NCAA Eligibility Center rules him eligible.
The New York Times story noted that Fenerbahce Ulker had reason to thwart Kanter's efforts to play for Kentucky. The Turkish team would receive a transfer fee if Kanter plays in Europe this coming season. If Kanter plays for UK, the Turkish team would receive no compensation.
Max Ergul, a man who acted as an adviser to Kanter, likened the player's time with Fenerbahce Ulker to a U.S. prospect attending a prep school, where tuition and costs can reach six figures in a period of two or three years.
Whatever the validity of that argument, Smith and Peck perceived Kanter as a professional player, and therefore not suitable for a high school team.
Smith was contacted in the spring of 2009 about Kanter playing for Oak Hill Academy. In checking Kanter's background, Smith said one of his former players, Brandon Jennings, said he played against the Turkish big man in the European league.
"I never knew a player in the Euro league that didn't get paid," said Smith, who added a moment later, "I can't see a team playing him and not having a contract. He'd jump ship on you. I'm 99 percent sure I was told he had a contract but was not paid.
"As a high school coach, it didn't matter if he was paid or not. I just felt the kid played pro ball in Europe. He couldn't come over here and play high school basketball."
When considering adding players, Smith said he will sometimes consult with the Virginia High School Athletic Association even though his school is not bound by its guidelines. Oak Hill Academy is in Mouth of Wilson, Va. But the Kanter case seemed clear enough to Smith that he did not seek help in the decision.
Kanter's next stop was Findlay Prep, the school in the Las Vegas area that produced UK wing DeAndre Liggins. After two weeks, Peck decided Kanter could not play for his team.
"Our deal was it was a perception issue," Peck said. "We just felt, from the program and school standpoint, we couldn't withstand the potential of a negative perception that would have come with that."
Such a "negative perception" would come from the team using a professional player. "Obviously, that's a no-no," Peck said. "In high school, even the college level, you're dealing with amateurs."
From Findlay Prep, Kanter went to Mountain State Prep in Beckley, W.Va. Then-Mountain State Coach Rodney Crawford, newly hired as an assistant at Duquesne, declined comment through a spokesman.
On his fourth try, Kanter found a U.S. basketball home at Stoneridge Prep in Simi Valley, Calif.
While not having to deal with a potential perception problem, Peck said that Findlay Prep also had to do without a standout player.
"Very talented," Peck said of Kanter. "I mean, hands down, very extremely talented. ...
"He's a difference maker."