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Nerlens Noel Needs to Be the Leader for UK to Win

I hope there’s room on that back for everyone, Nerlens.


Full disclosure: I was going to be Team Nerlens no matter what. We’re both Bostonians by birth, and if you’ve seen any Ben Affleck movie ever, you know that that bond is no joke. He could have turned out to be an even lazier Randolph Morris, and I would have irrationally defended him until his last day in Lexington. That’s how the whole Boston thing works– we’re fiercely loyal and we overvalue everything. Teams, athletes, movie stars, beers (what’s up, Sam Adams?), you name it, we hype it up. So, you can imagine my surprise in admitting that Nerlens has managed to exceed my own ridiculous expectations. 


Noel came to UK as the top player in the 2012 class, and the expected number one overall pick in the 2013 draft. And thus far, he has done nothing to hurt his stock- not in my admittedly biased eyes, or those of NBA scouts. Chad Ford still has him at the top of his big board, while Draft Express has him at 2, just behind Shabazz. Yeah, it’s the NBA, so potential plays a large role in those projections for some players (looking at you, Alex Poythress), but Nerlens has earned every bit of his NBA promise on the court. He has been a monster defensively from the get-go, hovering just below Anthony Davis’s blocks per game pace, while also chasing Rajon Rondo’s steals per game record. Throw in a rapidly improving offensive game, double-digit rebounds every time he steps on the floor, and a motor that doesn’t stop, and you’ve got a superstar in the making.


Is he Anthony Davis? No, he’s not. But even I can admit that it would have been ridiculous to assume that he ever would be. Davis put together the best individual season that college basketball had seen in two decades, maybe ever. The fact that it’s even close, that Nerlens and Davis comparisons are still being made, is amazing in it’s own right. He has lived up to the hype, and that’s no small thing.


All that said, Noel can be better. Scratch that, Noel NEEDS to be better. No, I don’t mean that he needs to pick up a consistent 18-footer or become more reliable from the line (although that would be nice), I mean that we need more out of him if we want to have any prayer of salvaging this season. It is painfully obvious that if this team is lacking one thing, it’s veteran leadership. Without a savvy vet like Darius Miller or DeAndre Liggins, and with no supernatural frosh like MKG demanding that everyone follow their lead, these Cats are essentially rudderless. So, in order for this team to pull themselves out of the NCAA no-mans-land that is the bubble watch, Nerlens is going to need to carry us. We need him to be the leader.


The good news is that Nerlens has already build the foundation to step up as the de-facto captain going forward. Yeah, he has put up some ridiculous numbers to date (last night he became the 1st D-I player since 1996-97 to go for 15 pts, 11 reb, 6 ast, 7 blk and 4 stl in a single game), but that’s only half the reason that he’s capable of being the guy. It’s the example he sets for everyone else that makes him leadership material. There’s no quit in Nerlens, and as Kristen said in her post last night, his hustle has continually wowed BBN on a game by game basis. It is rare that a player with the talent that Noel has goes all out to the extent that he does. More than anything else, including the blocks and the hi-top fade, that’s what makes him special. And that’s why he needs to tell the team to pile on his back from here on out.


If last night’s post game comments are any indication of what to expect going forward, then it looks as if Nerlens might be ready to step up and fill that role. Sounding a lot like another freshman who understood that he needed to be the leader, Nerlens said “it’s time we take responsibility. Coach Cal has done a lot for us, but I feel it’s time for us, as a team, to start coming around, clicking, and doing what we have to do… There’s a time, that us as players, have to start taking responsibility and I feel that time is now.”


The time is definitely now. Let’s hope Nerlens is up to the task. He’s our last best hope if we want to win.





Article written by Andrew McCarthy

23 Comments for Nerlens Noel Needs to Be the Leader for UK to Win

  1. Eastern Kentucky Fan
    8:41 pm January 13, 2013 Permalink

    Haz that Nerlens feller gone past the 8th grade? He must be won smart feller. I likes him.

  2. mycats
    8:53 pm January 13, 2013 Permalink

    Liggins getting the start tonight!

  3. ukcatfan36
    9:02 pm January 13, 2013 Permalink

    Noel is doing great–it’s the rest of the team–I mean I hear all the time how great Harrow is and yesterday he goes 2 assists and 5 turnovers. That’s where we’re hurting in my opinion-point guard–we def. miss Teauge.

  4. Little Johnny
    9:12 pm January 13, 2013 Permalink

    Do you all think UK will get an NIT bid?

  5. j
    9:13 pm January 13, 2013 Permalink

    Ben affleck is a bitch

  6. j
    9:14 pm January 13, 2013 Permalink

    Could you ask for a worse season.. Duke, Louisville and Indiana all have been number one, well Louisville will be tomorrow and Kentucky will be in the NIT!

  7. Pete
    9:18 pm January 13, 2013 Permalink

    Love how the opposing fans come to this site. Reinforces how much it means to have that KENTUCKY across the chest.

  8. Hey
    9:21 pm January 13, 2013 Permalink

    Put Nerlens on last year’s team in place of Davis and UK still wins the title. Switch Pyrothress with Darius Miller or Terrance Jones and UK is lucky to get past Sweet 16.
    It is all about who you surround top players with. Noel has to work a hundred times harder to get his points and stats. Davis was great and a part of a great team. In my opinion , Noel is more mobile and agile than Davis and can defend more positions than Davis. Noel will have the better NBA career. Just needs to hone in on a midrange jumper.

  9. Now
    9:22 pm January 13, 2013 Permalink

    8) No way Noel has a better career than Davis. FTs and a J to say the least.

  10. Hey
    9:24 pm January 13, 2013 Permalink

    Even if it comes to being in an NIT tourney we still won the title last and have won 3 titles since IU and UL won their last back in the 80’s. It is sad when your last title came when Wham! was still a musical group and relevant.

  11. Hey
    9:26 pm January 13, 2013 Permalink

    Noel can gain a jumper and hit free throws down the road. He’s not a bad free throw shooter right now. He’s still lean and will add strength. My opinion Noel will have better NBA career.

  12. BowelMovement
    9:52 pm January 13, 2013 Permalink

    Noel has bigger lips than Davis, which is amazing.

  13. Hey
    10:22 pm January 13, 2013 Permalink

    12. But not bigger than Russ Smith or your wife’s.

  14. [email protected]
    10:41 pm January 13, 2013 Permalink

    We really need more than Noel being a leader. (#1.) We need Goodwin to stop the out of control TOs when driving into traffic. When he finishes, it is beautiful, but almost half his drives end in disaster. (#2.) We need Poythress to play like he did against Duke. Where have the thunder dunks gone. We need him to be a beast on the glass. (#3.) We need Cauley Stein to stroke those free throws and to grab a few more rebounds. (#4.) We need Kyle Wiltjer to play defense like a blood hound and to battle on the glass. He needs to be Bill Laimber. He needs to work at getting open behind the ARC. In the Vandy and Texas A&M game he could not get a good look from 3. They smother him on every touch. #(5.) Julius needs to start hitting those treys at about a 40% clip instead on 20%. As for Harrow and Noel, they are both playing really well right now, so I’m not for sure how much more they can give us. If the other guys step it up, we might be able to close out the SEC at around 12-6 and finish 21-10. That will make us a bubble team for sure, but I can’t see this group winning much on the road in the SEC against anyone, and Florida will destroy us in Rupp. All I can say is maybe next year. We have the #1 class and if we get Wiggins & Randall, we could be cutting the nets down again. This year is just gonna suck.

  15. Rae
    10:55 pm January 13, 2013 Permalink

    10. Besides, UNC did the same thing in 2010. And look to be doing the same thing this year without the shiny trophy to look back on. Weren’t Harrison Barnes and co. freshmen during their NIT season? He was a highly touted freshman and was a first round pick last year. UK recruited him a bit, I recall. One could argue that Roy Williams had NBA talent and went to the NIT and 2 Elite Eights with it. And yet if Cal has a bridge year he is suddenly a bad coach. Were people giving Roy Williams this much grief in 2009-2010?

    That’s the downside to these junior and senior led teams really. You have to wait three or four years between great seasons in UL’s case. They are acting like one great year will make them forever kings, when they are set to lose a lot of guys logging significant minutes and will have to wait for another moderately talented but very experienced team to form. And that will mean a lot of lumps.

  16. eastcoascat
    1:25 am January 14, 2013 Permalink

    Noel and Davis will both have great careers in the NBA if they stay healthy (which is already a problem with Davis/Wall).

    I think having a few guys that have been through it before makes all the difference. How to handle hostile environments, spurts, slumps, etc…
    We cant just reload every year. Everyone is saying “wait til next year when we go 40-0”. Well everybody thought we were gonna be unstoppable this year and that is’nt happening.

    Only one I want to stay at this point is Nerlens and he is the only one proving that he should go pro. The rest of em should stay another yr b4 they go to the D-League or transfer.

    Wheres Ramel Martinez when u need him??

  17. bigcat4453
    2:19 am January 14, 2013 Permalink

    It’s been so long since the last title for these guys that Reagan was stillin office. He’s been dead 9 years now!

  18. fatcat
    6:01 am January 14, 2013 Permalink

    Nerlen is a beast but this team SUCKS.

  19. cracka
    8:20 am January 14, 2013 Permalink

    that draftexpress link has siva as the 99th best nba prospect, wow

  20. Biglaw Dawgin'
    10:46 am January 14, 2013 Permalink

    Have we been watching the same season? The guy misses layup after layup and is constantly out of position on D. His stats are nothing special (10pts, 9rebs, 2ast) except for his blocks. He is easily out-muscled (see Jack Cooley of Notre Dame) and can’t hit a free throw to save his life (58%, although he was better last game). I just haven’t seen what makes him so special right now. IMO, he’s not even the best big on this team, Cauley-Stein is. Not only does he need to get others to step it up, but he needs to get tougher and finish when he has the chance.

  21. kingrex
    11:09 am January 14, 2013 Permalink

    #20 I tend to agree with you. The thing that gives the impression he is special is he tries hard (which is in contrast sadly to at least 3 of the other guys on the court) and for some reason he is able to poke the ball away from guards on the dribble. Other than that, he is out of position and always leaving his feet.

  22. STEVE!
    1:17 pm January 14, 2013 Permalink

    To those criticizing Nerlens or saying he won’t be a good NBA player – HE WAS IN HIGH SCHOOL SIX MONTHS AGO!!! His skills and his muscles will grow.

  23. Biglaw Dawgin'
    2:12 pm January 14, 2013 Permalink

    21 – Jay Bilas tends to agree with us as well. Has Noel as his #1 most overrated player in college.