Kanter’s biggest problem? Geography

Since The New York Times broke the story that a Turkish team says it paid University of Kentucky freshman Enes Kanter as much as $100,000 over three years before he came to the U.S., it has been a rancorous time in these parts. People attacking the Times. Fan bases lashing out. Today, I went into the Istanbul Palace restaurant near my house. I felt like an outsider. Here on the blog, we’re going to lighten the discussion up a bit, stream-of-consciousness style . . .

If Enes Kanter had grown up in Turkey, Ky., he wouldn’t be having this amateurism problem at the University of Kentucky.

What’s that? You didn’t know there was a Turkey, Ky.? Sure there is. In Breathitt County. A couple of miles west of Shoulderblade, and maybe 30 minutes out of Beattyville.

If Kanter had been from Turkey, Ky., he’d be as good as in the layup line. He’d have played at Breathitt County High School, where nobody gets paid for playing basketball. Or maybe he’d have left the Appalachian foothills, alas, in search of more exposure, and wound up at Oak Hill or some other brand-name basketball factory.

But he didn’t.

Instead, Kanter grew up in that other Turkey, in Istanbul (formerly Byzantium, formerly Constantinople), where there is no high school basketball — though, it should be noted, there are three KFC locations.

In Istanbul, as in other foreign cities — like Los Angeles, New York and Atlanta — basketball is played more at the club level than at the school level. Just think of it like an AAU program, except where the players get money above the table instead of under it.

The NCAA understands this. It makes some allowances for foreign players to pay back money they received from their club teams that they wouldn’t have been able to take legally had they been playing in the American system. The NCAA even makes American players pay back money on those rare occasions when it finds out about it, unless, and this is an important exception, the player in question has led Duke to a Final Four.

But Kanter’s situation, coming from Turkey, is different.

Joey, have you ever been in a Turkish club league?

There are other obstacles for Kanter to overcome. Enter two guys whose names I cannot remember or pronounce. They are officials from Kanter’s club team in Istanbul, and they have told the New York Times that they began to pay Kanter to play basketball for them when he was 14 years old.

That alone casts a shadow over the whole enterprise. I’m not saying whether they paid him or not. Knowing how these things work, I’m assuming they did. We don’t know. What we do know is that the minimum legal employment age in Turkey is 15. A younger child may work if his education is completed.

Either way, these guys were in business with a minor. But let’s leave that alone.

There is no “Q, W or X” in team

These officials say they have bank records showing that Kanter’s family cashed checks from the team. As is always the case, obtaining records in these foreign situations is a difficulty for NCAA and school officials.

In the last case I covered involving a foreign player, the NCAA determined that the player’s submitted transcript was a forgery. (Forged documents were a common problem from the country in question, Nigeria.) Turned out, the NCAA was right. When the real transcript was finally tracked down, the player’s grades were better than they were on the forgery. You never know.

Regardless, the grown-ups in these leagues are not acting in the best interests of these teenagers. They are making an investment. They need not cooperate with NCAA officials, and even when they do, getting accurate documents is difficult, understanding them is complicated, and verifying them, in some cases, is impossible.

Fact: The Turkish alphabet, which contains 29 letters, does not contain the letter “Q.” Nor does it contain “W” or “X.” I just throw that out there. It seems important. I’m not sure how.

I understand the need for the NCAA to make sure that its players can claim amateur status. If the NCAA loses that, it might as well recast itself as a pro sports outfit, start selling rights fees for billions, line up some mega-money commercial sponsorships and enter into a bunch of corporate partnerships. Oh, wait.

Where was I? Yes, the need for the NCAA to make sure its athletes are amateurs. I get it. But I also feel for a kid who, at age 14, gets caught up in all this through no choosing of his own, with no inkling and probably even less care for what he might want to do four years later.

The player’s parents, by all accounts, were smart enough to know better, and well-off enough not to need to professionalize their son. If they did so, it shows a blatant and willful disregard for his amateur status.

The result is that Kanter might wind up missing out on a year of American college. It’s unlikely he’d miss more than that, as he’s a projected lottery pick in the 2011 draft. Either way, he’ll be fine. And frankly, the NCAA has better places to spend resources than on a kid who likely intends to stay in school only six months.

Still, this truth remains: If the NCAA’s rules are byzantine to those of us who live with them, how much more are they for a family from Byzantium itself?

Unrelated digression

You like that use of Turkish culture, geography and language for a word that, in English, means “intricately involved?” That’s wordsmithing, folks.

And speaking of wordsmiths, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that one of the world’s great living writers, Orhan Pamuk, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, is from Turkey. Read his work. “The Museum of Innocence,” his most recent book, includes a beautiful 2-page opening sequence. His novel, “The Black Book,” includes in its plot a woman who falls in love with a newspaper columnist. That, friends, is literature.

Big, apocalyptic finish

So the time has come to tie it all together. The whole thing, the Turkish team, Kanter, Istanbul, KFC, the work of Orhan Pamuk, UK, the NCAA and its rules, the letter “Q,” The New York Times, they all are pointing to a bigger truth, a truth so obvious that it is obscure.

In the Biblical book of Revelation, there are letters sent to the seven churches of Asia. They are also called the seven churches of the apocalypse. All of them, you should know, were located in Turkey. This can mean but one thing.

That’s right. This whole ordeal could well mean the end of the world. Or that Kanter could be the second coming of DeMarcus Cousins. I don’t know which.


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