Enes Kanter Ineligible, But It's Not a John Calipari Scandal
For a not-insignificant chunk of the college basketball world, Calipari could turn water into wine and they'd only complain about how the coach broke Kentucky's blue laws.
Calipari has a past. Calipari is a cheater. Any hint of impropriety sets off a message board stampede, usually of the typo-strewn variety. (JOHN CALIPARI IS A LIER is probably trending right now.) Whenever Calipari and scandal bump into each other, it results in something a little like what a witch trial would have looked like if Salem had laptops and hats buckled two sizes too tight.
Blather. Rinse. Repeat.
So when the NCAA ruled Enes Kanter ineligible Thursday, schadenfreude skyrocketed.
But Kanter is not a John Calipari scandal, no matter how much anyone might want it to be.
Kanter accepted some $33,000 in money above what the NCAA deemed necessary, $25,000 of which a New York Times story had described as "pocket money," which I suppose is fair if you're wearing Bill Gates' pants. That was it. To summarize: A man in no way involved with Calipari and in no way benefiting from Kanter's enrollment in Lexington says he gave the recruit money.
That's the story.
Gee, shame on you John.
It's a big deal for the NCAA, of course, and rightly so, as the organization holds the amateurism of its competitors as sacrosanct. It's a big story for college basketball because it has rendered a 6-foot-10 rebounding bulldozer ineligible and put a damper on the season of one of college basketball's blue bloods.
But it's not a fault of John Calipari.
No one is accusing the coach of sending an envelope of liras via FedEx or fixing a grade on the history of the Ottoman Empire. No one is accusing him of so much as promising to put kabobs on the training table.
Kanter isn't a kid charged with two felonies (like Tyree Evans at Maryland and then Kent State) or a kid who can't graduate with his high school class (Tory Mitchell, Missouri's top recruit) or a kid with more eligibility issues than the Chinese women's gymnastics team (say, Renardo Sidney). Calipari didn't knowingly violate a recruiting rule, then make sure to commemorate it in photo form, then lie to the NCAA about it, as Tennessee's Bruce Pearl did.
All Calipari did is recruit a kid with known eligibility issues who he believed would be able to play, and give him a chance to play college basketball.
The only culpability Calipari could hold is if he knew Kanter took money from his Turkish team and never told his school or the NCAA about it.
Let us clear up that mystery for you right now: He didn't.
Save the Sam Ervin act, thundering about what he knew and when he knew it. Calipari didn't know. It doesn't make sense that he knew. The issue is so cut and dried -- if Kanter took a salary, he would be, and is, ineligible -- there's no way the coach would waste a scholarship and leave his frontcourt precisely as deep as Paris Hilton's inner monologue.
Behind Kanter, there's only junior college transfer Eloy Vargas and Josh Harrellson, a junior who averaged 3.6 points per game in his best season and is more known for his Twitter antics than his basketball acumen.
Losing freshman Daniel Orton to the NBA draft didn't much help with the Wildcats depth, but surely, with the way Calipari selects recruits with the ease kids pick shirts and skins, he would've bulked up the team's frontcourt roster had he known Kanter would be found ineligible.
Granted, there is a whiff of the hear-no-evil, see-no-evil aspect to the recruitment, but that's the stench of college basketball these days. It's endemic to the sport, coaches with enough sense for self-preservation to distance themselves from the shadier sides of the business. Ask Jim Calhoun. Ask Lute Olson. Each has had their teams involved in NCAA investigations where the stance of the head coach seemed to be to look the other way.
Calipari certainly knew there were issues with Kanter. Three prep schools passed on the best post talent in the world because of concerns about his eligibility. Oak Hill, Findlay Prep and Mountain State each opted not to allow Kanter to play.
But if we're going to lay this at Calipari's feet, lay it at Stoneridge Prep as well. Lay it at Lorenzo Romar, the Washington coach who offered, and received a commitment from, Kanter prior to Kentucky.
Or blame anyone who's ever recruited a European player.
Clearing Europe's young scholars for NCAA play has always been a murky process at best. In 1999, Vasco Evtimov, a player recruited by Dean Smith and coached by Bill Guthridge, two of the NCAA's most famously straight arrows, sat out 16 games for participation in a French pro league because of misunderstanding of the eligibility process. Fellow Turk Deniz Klicli sat out 20 games last season, while Turkish point guard Engin Atsur missed three for N.C. State in 2003-2004. Presently at Indiana, Guy-Marc Michel still awaits an eligibility ruling from the NCAA.
Of course, there are differences in scale between, say, Evtimov's actions and Kanter's, but monitoring who did what is hard enough in Indianapolis, let alone Istanbul.
If there's still a lingering whiff of impropriety, maybe it's the sense that Calipari once again delved into the gray areas of recruiting into blue-chip recruits. But he does a pretty darn good job in the black-and-white world too. He recruited John Wall out of the center of ACC country and beat Baylor for his services, even though the Bears hired the brother of his AAU coach, now manager/hanger-on Brian Clifton, Dwon.
College basketball recruiting is murky, it's complicated and it's something the NCAA will need to continue to clarify, particularly in regard to Europe.
It's just not a black mark on John Calipari, no matter how much you want it to be.