Kanter well worth the risk for Calipari

There’s a reason why just about everyone passed on Enes Kanter.

They all knew it was a long shot — at best — that the Turkish big man would be cleared to play college basketball by the NCAA.

However, Kentucky coach John Calipari rolled the dice, figuring it was worth the risk to see if he could maybe find a way to get Kanter on the court in a Wildcats uniform.

The NCAA student-athlete reinstatement staff on Thursday night ruled Kanter permanently ineligible for receiving benefits “above his actual and necessary expenses” while playing for club basketball team Fenerbahce in Turkey.

Kanter played three years with Fenerbahce, and both Kentucky and the NCAA Eligibility Center agreed that he received $33,033 more than his necessary expenses for the 2008-09 campaign.

“Enes took advantage of an opportunity to play at the highest level available to him, but the consequences of receiving payments above his actual expenses is not compatible with the collegiate model of sports that our members have developed,” said Kevin Lennon, NCAA vice president of academic and membership affairs, in a statement.

That should be enough to keep Kanter off the court, but it’s not over yet.

There’s still an appeal process though which Kentucky will go in front of the Division I Student-Athlete Reinstatement Committee — independently comprised of representatives from colleges, universities and athletic conferences — at the end of November.

It’s the last chance for Kentucky to make its case in the initial-eligibility process.

And unless UTEP coach Tony Barbee or UMass head man Derek Kellogg — two of Calipari’s former players — are on the committee, it’s difficult to imagine other administrators going against the NCAA’s decision in order to clear one of his players.

You see, Calipari isn’t exactly well-liked in college basketball circles.

And now, you’ve got one of his players, someone who the school has admitted took in excess of $33,000 from a Turkish basketball club, trying to get approved to play college basketball.

Kanter’s amateur status is now history.

He is a pro —plain and simple.

Sure, there are those who feel players should be allowed to take money, but under the current system, it’s illegal.

And it would set a bad precedent to clear Kanter.

That’s why just about everyone — even prep school powerhouse Oak Hill Academy — took a pass on Kanter.

Except for Calipari.

Calipari’s reputation is already cemented. Sure, he hasn’t been directly tied to his previous institutions — UMass and Memphis — vacating their Final Four appearances. However, Calipari was in charge of the program when Marcus Camby took money from agents and Derrick Rose’s SAT score was deemed invalid.

Taking a shot on Kanter was worth it for Calipari. It wouldn’t alter the perception, anyway, and anything that had been given to Kanter back in his days with Fenerbahce came prior to Kentucky jumping into the fray.

After all, Kanter, who will be allowed to practice with the team while Kentucky appeals the NCAA’s ruling, is a difference maker.

With the relentless big man, who is projected by many NBA executives as a top-five pick in the next NBA draft, Kentucky is a potential Final Four team. He’s a dominating rebounder and low-post scorer.

Think DeMarcus Cousins sans the emotional baggage.

Without him, the Wildcats are just another top 25 team and will need everything to fall into place to make a deep NCAA tournament run.

They still have a couple of talented freshmen who are ranked in Scout.com’s Top 10 for the Class of 2010 — guard Brandon Knight and forward Terrance Jones — as well as returning starter Darius Miller on the wing.

But they are far from intimidating with Kanter sitting on the sidelines — or potentially back overseas.

Calipari will either have to play small-ball and go with a four-guard lineup or use Josh Harrellson or Eloy Vargas — both of whom are more suited to come off the bench for a team contending for an SEC championship.

That is, unless Kanter somehow wins his appeal later this month.

It appears unlikely, but if anyone can pull it off, it’s Calipari.