CHICAGO – Brandon Jennings began the trend when he bypassed college and bolted for Rome. Jeremy Tyler followed suit a year later and even college standouts such as Nick Calathes have opted to leave for the cash in Europe.
For each, money was a factor.
For Enes Kanter, it’s not.
Unless you’re a hoops junkie, this is likely the first time you’ve heard of Kanter. But there are plenty of reasons to familiarize yourself with the 6-foot-9, 240-pound big man who originally hails from Switzerland.
Kanter, 17, is regarded as the top prospect in Turkey and was recently named the MVP of the Under-18 European Championships, where he averaged 18.6 points and 16.4 rebounds a game.
Kanter was so dominant that he had a pair of professional contracts on table. Olympiacos, the largest and most popular Greek club, offered him $2 million per year for two seasons while a team in Turkey threw a five-year, $6 million dollar deal his way.
But Kanter spurned both offers and instead, left the country this last Thursday to pursue his dreams in the United States.
“I came here because it’s a bigger arena,” Kanter told Scout.com after a workout earlier this week. “I think I accomplished all I could in Europe. I didn’t want to turn pro at 17. I wanted to come here and experience the NCAA and I believe I can play in the NBA.”
Kanter is different. Coming from a strong academic background, where his father is a well-known professor and doctor, Kanter has a desire to earn a quality education in the United States.
“I want that the most,” he said. “I know in basketball I can play anywhere. I couldn’t get the culture and the language where I was.”
For Kanter, turning down the money was almost an afterthought. A quiet and unassuming kid who requires a translator, Kanter acted as if it wasn’t a big deal. He has other aspirations.
“It wasn’t difficult to turn down,” Kanter said. “The money was second or third in my priorities. My aim was to do this in America. I didn’t want to do this in Europe.”
Kanter Will Attend Findlay
“The challenge of the NCAA and NBA is why I came to the United States,” Kanter continued. “I want to represent Turkey in the NCAA and NBA. I believe it’s never been done in a way I can do it.”
He’s currently in Chicago working out, but will soon head to Las Vegas (Nev.) where he’ll enroll for his senior season at Findlay Prep.
“I think he’s a made a decision to really kind of make history,” Findlay assistant coach Todd Simon said. “He’s a pioneer in his decision making to turn down a lot of money to make a mature decision for a just turned 17-year old.”
“He put his education ahead of the instant gratification of wealth and even more fame in his own country,” he continued. “I think he’s definitely doing something that not many people have.”
Jonathan Givony, who runs the NBA Draft web site Draft Express, has seen Kanter play on multiple occasions - including most recently at the U18 European Championships.
“Him coming over here is a big deal,” Givony said. “NCAA basketball has taken a huge hit in the eyes of Europeans because so many guys have fallen on their face. The fact that he’s coming over here is a major, major story.”
“Right now he’s clearly the most productive player in his age group,” Givony added. “If you look at his stats from the Under 18’s, it’s insane. He was so dominant at the level.”
Findlay has become a haven for elite players in the last few years and also gives Kanter the exposure. Avery Bradley, considered a Top 10 player, is now a freshman at Texas. This year the program is loaded with big-time players including Texas-bound senior Tristan Thompson, Cory Joseph and Nick Johnson.
Thompson, Scout.com’s No. 3 prospect in the country, will now have a counterpart inside in Kanter, and there are big expectations coming with his move from Turkey to the United States.
“From the way scouts and people that we trust, based on their opinion he definitely has the potential [to be the best player we’ve had], obviously that is to be determined on the court,” Simon said.
Known for his aggressive rebounding and physical style of play, Kanter has drawn praise from international basketball experts as well as NBA GM’s.
“It’s very possible, but not for sure,” one NBA general manager said about the possibility of Kanter becoming a lottery pick in the future. “That’s not a stretch. He’ll be a really good get for a college team. He’ll be heavily recruited.”
However, Kanter is the first one to put the NBA talk on hold. At least for the time being.
“First I want to have a good education and then become a good, famous basketball player,” he said.
That’s certainly not what we’re used to hearing these days.