The NCAA has ruled that freshman Enes Kanter must stop practicing with the Kentucky basketball team and might have to sit out Big Blue Madness as he awaits a ruling on his eligibility.
The NCAA is reviewing Kanter's eligibility in light of questions about whether he's an amateur. He played for a professional team in his native Turkey the three years prior to attending a California-based prep school, Stoneridge Prep, in 2009-10. Earlier this year, The New York Times reported that the team, Fenerbahce Ulker, gave Kanter and his family between $100,000 and $150,000 in benefits in that time period.
When a player's eligibility is being reviewed, he or she can practice no more than 45 days with the team. Kanter's 45-day clock began ticking in early August when UK started practicing for an exhibition series in Canada.
The NCAA granted Kanter a waiver to continue practicing until the end of September. That waiver expired Thursday.
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"Starting today, the student-athlete is prohibited from practicing to include the upcoming Midnight Madness practice," NCAA spokesman Chuck Wynne wrote Friday in an e-mail message in response to a question about Kanter's status.
Kentucky could ask for another waiver so Kanter can resume practicing with the team. Spokesman DeWayne Peevy suggested that UK will seek another waiver when he confirmed that Kanter practiced on Thursday. "We hope to have him available at the next practice opportunity," Peevy said in a statement.
Before the official start of practice on Oct. 15, NCAA rules limit teams to no more than two hours of team practice per week.
Kanter's status has become a rallying cry among Kentucky fans. The line of tents outside Memorial Coliseum this week for Saturday's ticket distribution for Big Blue Madness included several "Free Enes" signs.
UK Coach John Calipari said last week that he considered Kanter an amateur.
"That's because his father, who is a doctor, a college professor in research, raised his son right," Calipari said earlier this year. "He knew what he wanted from his son. He knew he wanted his son to be an amateur. He did not want him to be a professional in any way. That's why they didn't sign anything. His dad wants him educated."
UK defenders have likened the money and benefits Kanter and his family reportedly received to the costs associated with attending a U.S. prep school. Calipari also argued that the cost of living in a cosmopolitan city such as Istanbul should be considered.
"Istanbul is an expensive city," the UK coach said. "Just as expensive as New York City. ...
"His dad has to maneuver all through that to keep his son in check. I can tell you he's never signed a contract nor has his dad. I can also tell you that club wants him back in the worst way. What we see (is) I think the kid did all the right things."
Kanter is widely seen as a key player for a Kentucky team that lost its top three big men from last season to the NBA Draft: DeMarcus Cousins, Patrick Patterson and Daniel Orton.
When asked earlier this year how Kanter could affect Kentucky's season, Calipari said, "I mean, obviously, we'd be better with him than without him."
But Calipari has repeatedly tried to dampen expectations that Kanter can be as good as Cousins, a freshman All-American for UK last season. "He's just not," the UK coach said. "That's crazy."
In April, Kanter set the recruiting world aflame by breaking Dirk Nowitzki's scoring record in the Nike Hoop Summit. He scored 34 points and grabbed 13 rebounds. Nowitzki scored a record 33 points in the 1998 Hoop Summit.
"He played well in the (Nike Hoop) Summit Game, and everybody judged him by that one game," Calipari said. "He played well because everybody was 6-7, 6-8. So at his size, he could physically do that. But the reality of it is, he's got to get in better shape. He's got to get stronger. He's got to improve his skills, balance around the goal. He's got a lot of work (to do). He's not a finished product."