LEXINGTON, Ky. – Kentucky's pursuit of an NCAA title won't include freshman center Enes Kanter.
The NCAA Student-Athlete Reinstatement Committee upheld Friday an earlier NCAA decision that deemed Kanter permanently ineligible for receiving more than $33,000 in impermissible benefits while playing for the Turkish club team Fenerbahce two years ago.
The ruling means Kanter will not be able to play, practice or travel with the team but will be able to receive financial aid should he choose to remain at the school.
"We are obviously disappointed in this decision and find it unfortunate that a group of adults would come to such a decision regarding the future of an 18-year-old young man," coach John Calipari said.
Calipari has maintained from the beginning that Kanter is an amateur in his eyes. He says his job now is to prepare the Kanter for the NBA draft. The 6-foot-11 center is projected as a top-10 draft pick.
"Enes will always be a part of our family and I plan to be by his side in the green room whenever he is drafted," Calipari said.
The decision ends a monthslong saga that included two different attempts by the university to clear Kanter. The NCAA initially ruled Kanter ineligible on Nov. 11 by the NCAA reinstatement staff. The reinstatement committee upheld that decision on Dec. 2, but the school was granted permission to have the case reconsidered because of new information on Dec. 8.
The new action ended with a similar result. The reinstatement staff ruled against Kanter again on Dec. 10, and the appeal was heard by the reinstatement committee on Thursday.
Both the school and the NCAA agreed that Kanter received $33,033 in 2008-09 while playing for Fenerbahce's club team. Calipari said about $20,000 of that money went toward Kanter's educational expenses, but the NCAA bylaws consider a player who receives money above necessary expenses a professional.
"The final decision of the reinstatement committee is completely compatible with the collegiate model of sports our members have developed, since he received a significant amount of money, above his actual expenses, from a professional team prior to coming to college," said Kevin Lennon, NCAA vice president of academic and membership affairs.
Kanter has become a cult figure during his time on campus. He was introduced to a rousing ovation during Big Blue Madness in October, walking across a smoke-filled stage while ominous music played over the speakers.
Fans have taken up a "Free Enes" movement that included T-shirts and photos of fans holding "Free Enes" banners everywhere from Rupp Arena to the U.S. Capitol.
Kanter has been allowed to practice with the team during the review process and was dressed Friday as the 10th-ranked Wildcats prepared for their Southeastern Conference opener against Georgia.
University spokesman DeWayne Peevy said it's likely Kanter will be able remain involved in the program in some capacity so long as he stays in school.
Calipari had hired Wayne Turner in September, adding the former star guard to his staff while he completes his undergraduate degree. NCAA rules allow former players who have re-enrolled in school to be used as on-court staffers.
Kanter's family could take the NCAA to court to file an injunction. Calipari said Friday "whatever they choose to do as a family, we'll support."