Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
The curious case of Enes Kanter gets more curious every day.
Kanter, a 6-foot-10 Turkish citizen born in Zurich, Switzerland, is now at his third American school in the span of two months.
Kanter has surfaced at Simi Valley (Calif.) Stoneridge Prep after brief stops at Findlay (Nev.) Prep and Beckley (West Va.) Mountain State.
“He legitimately wants to be here and go to college and Stoneridge is the only option,” said an industry source with knowledge of Kanter’s situation. “He would like to get eligibility by passing the [standardized] test. He might not even play at Stoneridge.
“He could enroll in college in the spring semester.”
Kanter, 17, was named Most Valuable Player of the 2009 U18 European Championship in Metz, France.
He averaged 18.6 points and a tournament-best 16.4 rebounds in leading his team to a bronze medal.
Kanter went for 32 points and 25 rebounds in a semifinal loss to Serbia before bouncing back and going for 35 points and 19 rebounds in a 95-74 win over Lithuania in the bronze medal game.
He turned down offers to play professionally in Europe to come to the U.S.
Here, Kanter had interest from virtually every major Division 1 program in the nation during his brief time at Findlay Prep, the defending national champions.
“It’s been 50-60 schools, everybody from UCLA to USC to Arizona, Texas, Kansas, North Carolina, Kentucky, Memphis, Florida, Ohio State, UConn, you can go right down the line,” Findlay assistant Todd Simon said in August.
Yet both Findlay and Mountain State — and a slew of colleges — have been scared off by Kanter’s professional background, which has sparked the interest of the NCAA.
Kanter grew up playing for Turkish club Fenerbahçe Ülker’s youth teams. Last fall he made his pro debut in the Turkish Basketball League and later played in the Euroleague. Still, he did not sign a contract and sources indicated he never received payment.
“I was on the roster because Semih [Erden] and Ömer [Asik] were injured,” Kanter told TrueHoop.com. “Sitting on the side, I was so nervous. I was joking with my teammates on the bench. Then Mirsad [Turkcan] got into foul problems. Coach [Bogdan Tanjevic] called my name. I was so excited. I felt like I was a roster-filler for that game, so I didn’t expect to play any minutes. I didn’t even tie my knee-pads until I sat down on the substitution chair.”
The industry source said the club had ulterior motives for putting Kanter in the games.
“Fenerbahçe, they stuck him in like eight or nine games just to screw with his eligibility because they’re ruthless,” the source said. “European clubs don’t want their kids coming him to America.”
Multiple sources said Kanter didn’t take any money for his appearances, but the NCAA prohibits players with professional backgrounds from competing on an amateur level in the U.S.
“At the end of the day, he didn’t do anything wrong,” Mountain State coach Rodney Crawford said. “He himself didn’t break any rules or break any laws. Now the NCAA, that’s up to them to decide.
“The issue was him playing professionally, which is true, but is not true.”
When word of Kanter’s background got to the U.S., it caused trouble for both Findlay and Mountain State. Opponents threatened not to play them because of Kanter’s presence on the roster.
“People cashed in on that eligibility excuse and they had an excuse to use as far as him possibly being a pro so they started backing out of games,” Crawford said. “It wouldn’t have hurt as bad, but it was a few too many.”
He added: “He wanted to be here. We wanted him here but we couldn’t get around the fact that we wouldn’t be able to play anybody.”
Now Kanter is at Stoneridge playing for first-year coach Derryck “Tank” Thornton.
“He’s in school working on his grades trying to get eligible for next year,” Thornton said Tuesday night. “He works extremely hard, extremely hard. He’s going to be awesome.”
Thornton said he was unfamiliar with Kanter’s background in Turkey but remained confident that he would play American college ball.
“I completely leave that into the hands of the NCAA,” Thornton said. “From what I’ve heard everything’s going to be fine. Anything the NCAA asks of me I’ll provide. Anything they want me to do is done.”
Those with knowledge of Kanter’s situation point out that if he truly was driven by money, he would’ve stayed in Europe and signed a big contract.
“If he really wanted money he wouldn’t be in the U.S.,” the source said. “He really wants to go to college.”
The source added that there is a difference between European players like Ricky Rubio, who clearly intend to play professionally, and Kanter, who do not.
“If a kid is under 18 and does not sign a pro contract and then comes to the U.S. and enrolls in a high school he should not be considered a pro,” the source said.
Crawford added that Kanter was actually a unique role model in an era when American players like Brandon Jennings and Jeremy Tyler leave the U.S. to play overseas.
“I think he will be able to play college ball,” Crawford said. “I think he will and I think it will be great for college basketball to have a kid who’s doing the opposite of what a lot of our American guys are doing. They’re leaving and going over there to play.
“He’s coming from over there to go to school here. He’s doing it differently and setting an example for kids over here.”
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Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.