December 24, 2010

Missing big man leaves hole in Calipari lineup

NCAA won't decide Kanter's UK status before next year

LEXINGTON, Ky. — If John Calipari could, he'd bolster his University of Kentucky basketball roster with freshman Enes Kanter.

But with word on Kanter's eligibility on hold until after the new year, Calipari is looking to alternatives to lengthen what's been a short rotation.

Six players on UK's 10-man roster are playing 24 or more minutes per game, five of them more than 28 per game.

“You have a lot of room for error if you have 10, 11 (players in the rotation) like we did a year ago,” Calipari said Wednesday after UK's 89-52 win against Winthrop.

That margin for error is narrow this season.

And there's no indication as to whether Kanter — a 6-foot-11 native of Istanbul, Turkey, whom rated as the top center in the high school class of 2010 — will ever get the chance to widen it.

Last month the NCAA ruled Kanter permanently ineligible to play at UK, saying he'd received $33,033 more than his expenses while playing for Fenerbahce Ulker, a pro club in Turkey, during the 2008-09 season.

UK first appealed that decision, then submitted new information for the NCAA to review before making a second ruling. That process is ongoing, NCAA spokesman Chuck Wynne said in an e-mail, and no decision will be made until after the first of the year.

“The NCAA and the University of Kentucky continue to work this issue according to the established student-athlete reinstatement process,” Wynne wrote. “At this point, there is nothing new.”

On Wednesday, Kanter's father, Mehmet, told Sporting News in an e-mail interview that he could “guarantee” his son would return to UK for his sophomore year if the NCAA rules that he must sit out this year but would be eligible for next season.

That statement will have no impact on the NCAA's ruling, Wynne said in an e-mail.

“While the NCAA would always encourage more education for any prospective student-athlete, Mr. Kanter's comments will not be a factor in the decision-making process,” Wynne wrote.

Whatever happens with Kanter, the Cats need depth now, particularly in the frontcourt.

In that regard, Calipari saw an encouraging sign Wednesday, when forward Eloy Vargas gave the Cats quality minutes off the bench. The 6-11 transfer from Miami Dade Community College scored a career-high eight points and grabbed three rebounds, two at the offensive end.

Vargas hasn't shown the ability to produce on a consistent basis — he averages 2.9 points and 3.5 rebounds per game as the backup to Josh Harrellson — but an effort like the one he gave against Winthrop could be a boon to UK.

“It would be a tremendous help coming off the bench, just to have another big to give Josh help,” point guard Brandon Knight said. “Then Josh can save his legs a little bit. When he gets in foul trouble, we (would) have another big to come in and do what Josh is doing.”

Vargas ranks seventh among UK players in minutes per game at 12.4.

Knight, Terrence Jones and DeAndre Liggins average more than 30 minutes per game. Doron Lamb and Darius Miller average more than 28 minutes. Harrellson is playing 24.1 minutes per game.

“If Eloy does what he did today, we have got a nice little rotation of seven,” Calipari said. “In the old days, that's what they played. They played seven guys.”

Calipari would like an eighth, and he's looking for development in the backcourt as well. He said on Wednesday that he's toying with the idea of increased minutes for freshman point guard Jarrod Polson — who came to UK as a walk-on — and said Tuesday that wing players Jon Hood and Stacey Poole “will play a part in this season.”

The Cats' lack of depth has impacted not only his rotations, Calipari said, but his ability to teach. He noted that last season he could afford to sit a struggling player to teach him lessons.

Calipari suggested that if Kentucky boasted the depth it had last season, he'd be more easily able to sit Jones — whose effort has been inconsistent — during games when he wasn't prepared to play.

This season he's tried different teaching methods.

“You have to kind of cajole and grab and hug and yell, but you've got to have somebody out on the court, and that's the issue we have right now,” Calipari said. “But I like my team. We've got good players who are starting to play together.”

Brett Dawson

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