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NC State’s Omer Yurtseven cleared to play by NCAA, but must sit 9 games

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N.C. State basketball coach Mark Gottfried talks about the confidence and leadership of freshman point guard Dennis Smith and the strength and depth of the ACC.
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N.C. State basketball coach Mark Gottfried talks about the confidence and leadership of freshman point guard Dennis Smith and the strength and depth of the ACC.

Omer Yurtseven will play basketball for N.C. State this season.

After a five-month review of his amateur status, the NCAA eligibility center cleared the freshman from Turkey on Monday, but he will have to sit out nine regular-season games and make a $1,000 payment to a charity of his choice.

Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried was disappointed with the length of Yurtseven’s suspension. Don Jackson, Yurtseven’s attorney, said the NCAA was more interested in establishing a precedent rather than the actual facts of the case. ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas took it a step further and called Yurtseven’s suspension “ridiculous.”

Yurtseven, a 7-foot forward, spent the previous three years with the Turkish pro club Fenerbahce. Under NCAA rules, international players are allowed to accept money for “actual and necessary expenses associated with practice and competition.”

Yurtseven did nothing to endanger his amateur status, his attorney said. Yurtseven was compensated by the club but never signed a contract and never signed with an agent, Jackson said.

Omer and his family attempted to do everything the right way and based on the NCAA rules, and he still got a nine-game punishment.

Omer Yurtseven’s attorney, Don Jackson

“There was nothing else here,” Jackson said. “There’s no justification for this. Omer and his family attempted to do everything the right way and based on the NCAA rules, and he still got a nine-game punishment.

“This wasn’t about the objective, provable facts. It was more of an effort to protect their flawed methodology for future cases.”

Skilled big man

Bilas, who is also a Charlotte-based attorney, said the NCAA had no legitimate reason to suspend Yurtseven.

“A young man choosing college should be welcomed, not punished for growing up and living in another country,” Bilas wrote in a text message on Monday. “He has exhibited no behavior to indicate he’s a professional. In fact, he’s turning down money to play in college.”

Yurtseven is a skilled big man who is considered one of the best international prospects in college basketball. He scored 91 points in an under-18 club game last spring and had eight points and seven rebounds in 15 minutes in Fenerbahce’s exhibition win over the Brooklyn Nets last October.

Jackson and his Montgomery, Ala.-based firm The Sports Group have handled hundreds of eligibility cases against the NCAA in nearly 25 years. He represented former Kansas forward Cheick Diallo last year.

Jackson said the NCAA’s application of amateurism rules to African-American and international players is discriminatory.

“On a yearly basis, the athletes that are selectively targeted are disproportionately African-American and international student-athletes,” Jackson said. “There’s no justification for this young man to sit nine games or even nine seconds.”

The club went out of its way to undermine Yurtseven’s eligibility, Jackson said.

“Their goal was to prevent him from playing college basketball,” Jackson said.

That’s what happened with former Kentucky player Enes Kanter, who also played for Fenerbahce. He was ruled permanently ineligible by the NCAA in the 2011-12 season.

But Yurtseven’s family went into an agreement with Fenerbahce, when Yurtseven was 15, with the intent of eventually going to college.

Cost-of-living question

At the crux of Yurtseven’s case was how much money he accepted for “actual and necessary expenses” compared to what the NCAA’s calculation for the cost-of-living is in Turkey.

N.C. State’s compliance staff and Jackson worked with the NCAA on the difference between the two figures. Jackson said the NCAA applies a calculation based on a national mean and does not take into consideration the difference between different cities within the country or different regions within the city.

Yurtseven’s family is from Istanbul but that wasn’t factored in the cost-of-living analysis, Jackson said.

It would be analogous to a player from an affluent New York City suburb and the “poorest part of Alabama” being treated the same, Jackson said.

“Their calculations are slanted from the offset,” Jackson said.

The NCAA referred specific questions about the cost-of-living calculation to N.C. State.

Given the work put in by N.C. State’s compliance staff and the precedents set in other cases (Ukrainian forward Alex Len was given a 10-game suspension in 2011-12 season), N.C. State athletic director Debbie Yow was pleased with the resolution of the case.

“The NCAA conducted a thoughtful analysis of Omer’s situation,” Yow said in a statement released by the school. “Their staff exhibited considerable concern for fairness and for the welfare of this conscientious young man in their decision.”

Gottfried said he was disappointed for Yurtseven.

“He has been patient and 100 percent forthright,” Gottfried said in a statement released by the school. “We will adapt and integrate him in as soon as possible.”

Yurtseven is allowed to practice with the team and play in its two exhibition games. N.C. State faces Lynn University on Thursday.

Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio

N.C. State basketball coach Mark Gottfried tells reporters that things are looking up for Wolfpack basketball.

N.C. State basketball coach Mark Gottfried talks about the confidence and leadership of freshman point guard Dennis Smith and the strength and depth of the ACC.

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