Controversy looms as Gülen follower Enes Kanter left out of national team
ISTANBULOklahoma City Thunder center Enes Kanter’s exclusion from the national team squad has rocked Turkish basketball ahead of the upcoming European Championships.
National team coach Ergin Ataman said Kanter was left out of the 20-man initial squad because “he did not apologize” for incidents in the past, while the 23-year-old player, an open supporter of U.S.-based Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, claimed the decision was based on his political views.
“I wish that the decision and statement on this subject had been a professional one that suited the national team,” Kanter wrote on his Twitter account late on June 23 after the squad was announced.
“The reasons presented do not reflect the truth, the reason I was not included in the squad is the values I believe in and my political stance,” he added.
Kanter, who had a fruitful season for the Thunder, averaging 15.5 points and 8.9 rebounds, is a follower of Fethullah Gülen and a frequent visitor to his house in Pennsylvania.
The Justice and Development Party (AKP) has been trying to crush the Gülen movement, which was close to the party for years, arguing that the group had created a “parallel state” within the state institutions, while the movement’s members, who call themselves “Hizmet” (Service) volunteers, claim the AKP is trying to cover up a massive graft probe launched in December 2013, with its operations. Several names, including police chiefs, judges and prosecutors, are currently under arrest for their alleged roles in the “parallel state.”
Coach Ataman said the decision was not political.
“I wanted to have a close relationship with Enes since I took over the job last year, but could not get any response,” he said after announcing the squad, which includes NBA players Ersan İlyasova, Ömer Aşık and Furkan Aldemir.
“He still has not apologized to his teammates for past incidents, but he may be a part of the squad in the future,” Ataman added.
Turkish national basketball team is no stranger to political debates. A major controversy broke out when the squad for Eurobasket 2013 was announced in July, 2013, and guard Cenk Akyol was left out at the peak of his career.
Many believed that the decision was the result of his refusal to speak to NTV after the deciding game of the Beko Basketball League Final at the time of Gezi protests.
Akyol picked the NTV microphone from a pile of microphones during an interview and said he would not respond to questions if the channel’s microphone was there, in a move that was seen as a reaction to the broadcaster’s much-criticized coverage on the Gezi Park protests.
NTV is owned by Doğuş Holding, which also owned the national team’s main sponsor, Garanti Bank, at the time.