Pete Thamel of the New York Times: Web Hit Whore or Calipari Hater?

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Pete Thamel of the New York Times:  Web Hit Whore or Calipari Hater?
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A Better Use of the New York Times?

It's September.

The race to win the AL East is hotter than a Labor Day barbeque, the NFL has kicked off another season, and college football has completed its premiere weekend to much delight.

So what better time to talk about college basketball? Particularly, the story reported last week by New York Times writer Pete Thamel about prized University of Kentucky recruit Enes Kanter.

Thamel reports that Kanter's Turkish team, Fenerbahce Ulker, paid in excess of $100,000 to Kanter and his family during the three years Kanter played there, even though Kanter never signed a contract, nor (as a minor) would be legally permitted to.

Some bit of a brouhaha has since erupted, as Duquesne assistant coach Rodney Crawford came out to say that Thamel misquoted and misrepresented his words about Max Ergul, an adviser to Kanter.

In the Kentucky blogoverse, this story, coming on the heels of Thamel's earlier piece about former UK guard Eric Bledsoe and alleged improprieties while an Alabama high school student, after which another interviewee said Thamel misquoted her, indicates that Thamel has some kind of vendetta against UK or head basketball coach John Calipari.

Whether or not this is true, there are a number of questions that Thamel's story prompts regarding his report:

1. Why did Thamel virtually ignore Fenerbahce's stake in Kanter? From the article:

"Fenerbahce stands to benefit if Kanter is declared ineligible to play college basketball since the team would be due a transfer fee if he plays in Europe..."

What Thamel doesn't go on to say is that the fee is in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, which they don't get if Kanter attends a US college and declares for the NBA draft.

Nor does he mention the dangerous precedent Kanter's enrollment presents for all the teams in the Euroleague, whereby teams can lose valuable young players to US schools without any compensation.

This would certainly call into question the Turkish club's motives for providing the information they did to the NCAA.

2. Why couldn't Thamel prove or disprove Kanter adviser Ergul's claim about whether he is an agent?

"Ergul strongly denied being an agent. 'I’d like to see one piece of paperwork that I signed as an agent or even applied for as an agent,' he said."

So would I. Then why didn't Thamel do the legwork?

If such a piece of paper existed, it would support Thamel's story.

Certification, registration and disclosure are all part of being an agent. It stands to reason that a paper trail would exist. Surely, the New York Times has the resources available to investigate and prove whether Ergul was an agent.

On the other hand, being aware of the disingenuous writing becoming more prevalent in print media, it is entirely possible that they did investigate, the results backed up Ergul's statement, and a decision was made by either the writer or an editor to leave the question open ended for the purpose of the story, and the resulting controversy.

Yes, it happens.

3. Why the strange quote attributed to Duquesne assistant Crawford, which Crawford says was taken completely out of context?

"When asked about Ergul's role in Kanter's life, he said: 'He's his adviser. That would be a good way to put it.' He added: 'You know, that's another thing I can't really speak on. I just took a coaching job at Duquesne; you know how the game is, I can't afford to say anything.' (emphasis mine)"

This one's fairly simple, actually: Thamel goes to a lot of trouble to characterize Ergul as mysterious, even shady in the previous paragraph, where he quotes Crawford as saying "He's a real secretive guy," and "I don't feel comfortable talking much about him," not once but twice.

The first quote, by itself, looks pretty innocent: Ergul's an adviser. The second quote adds a sinister quality to the whole thing.

Now, it appears, Crawford is choosing his words to protect his job. In the words of the kid in the Connect Four commercial from my youth, "Pretty sneaky, sis."

Crawford, as reported by Kentucky Sports Radio and USA Today, said that the quote in question wasn't about Ergul or Kanter and Thamel knew it. What ulterior motive would Thamel have in purposely misquoting a source?

4. Paying minors without a contract is in apparent violation of Euroleague's rules, and may, in fact, constitute a illegal act. Why was Fenerbahce so eager to blow the whistle on itself?

I have researched this all day and unfortunately have yet been unable to uncover written rules and regulations governing Euroleague basketball, so I don't have solid evidence on this particular—I have only what I have gleaned through other reports on this situation.

But one can make a logical assumption that if signing a minor, without parental consent, to a professional basketball contract would violate a number of laws designed to protect juveniles in the US, it would not be beyond the realm of possibility that Turkey would have similar laws in place.

Thus, surely committing what is essentially paying a juvenile under the table, without a contract, would be considered a crime.

Why would the general manager of the Turkish team cheerfully confess to this transgression and why didn't Thamel follow up on this?

New reports from KSR provide a possible reason: The GM for Fenerbahce Ulker, Nedem Karakas, does not speak English—the quotes Thamel attributes to Karakas are actually the words of a translator.

But you wouldn't know it from Thamel's article. Nowhere does he state that a third party is involved. This is an obvious breach of journalistic ethics; besides that, it calls into question the veracity of every statement purportedly made by Karakas.

It is difficult to believe that someone has attained the level of GM for a professional basketball team without the knowledge that freely admitting to crimes, on the record with the New York Times, is not the key to continued success in your field.

While Mr. Karakas may simply be that naive, I doubt it.

Is it, perhaps, more likely that a lazy translator did not precisely convey Mr. Karakas' words?

Now to answer the question in the headline, a question that, according to Bleacher Report's sophisticated headline assisting software, virtually guarantees me vast numbers of readers, and truthfully is a far sight better than my original headline ("Pete Thamel: WTF?"):

Does Thamel have a personal grudge of some kind against John Calipari, or is he simply one of an increasing number of media whores who write negative articles about UK to drive up site hits from Kentucky's passionate fanbase?

Uh, gee, I don't know.

Guess I should have thought through that headline a little more, huh?

I'll leave it to you, gentle reader, to decide, but you may want to consider this comment I'm paraphrasing from someone responding to one of the related reports: Would this still be news if Kanter were attending the University of Washington?

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