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Nerlens Noel’s Legacy

Leaving a legacy at a place like Kentucky isn’t always easy. When success is defined by national championships, etching a place in the history books is no easy task. On the other hand, Kentucky fans devote as much time and energy to following the basketball program as any fans in the country. Etching a place in the heart of the fans, who often times live and breathe every moment of a season, can often times be accomplished even without the raising of a national championship banner. Players like Patrick Patterson, the “Unforgettables,” Tayshaun Prince, Jodie Meeks, etc. engrain themselves in our hearts forever, without having ever won a national championship.

Nerlens Noel is primed to join this group of former Kentucky basketball players: the ones we loved who never won a national championship. Noel was a member of perhaps one of the most forgettable Kentucky basketball teams in the John Calipari era. And if this team is to be remembered, it probably won’t be for any of the right reasons. The struggles of the season led to a disappointing, and short-lived trip to the NIT. The number of disappointments from this season cannot be measured on a single hand, or even two or three. Nerlens Noel, however, was a bright spot (even with the injury) from an otherwise dreary season of Kentucky basketball.

His number will never be retired. He probably won’t make anyone’s Top 10 Kentucky players of all-time list. But Nerlens Noel will leave Kentucky with a positive and memorable legacy. Nerlens Noel will go down in Kentucky basketball history alongside some of the other great and likable names who never reached the ultimate glory by winning a national championship. He will always be one of those players who you almost just wished could have been placed on another team, because you want guys like him to have that kind of success.

8 factors that will contribute to Nerlens Noel’s positive legacy at Kentucky:

1) The entrance

Not every Wildcat announcement is memorable, but Noel’s was for a number of reasons. The first reason being that the entire day leading up to the announcement, the popular and growing belief was that Noel was going to be choosing Georgetown. Not only did Noel pull a bit of a rabbit out of the hat when he chose Kentucky, but he also caught the attention and hearts of Big Blue Nation when he shaved the decision (UK) into the back of his flat top/high top fade haircut.

2) Going above and beyond in the community and when embracing the fan base

From nearly the moment Noel arrived in Lexington, he began reaching out to make meaningful connections with the Kentucky fan base. The stories began to trickle out about Noel visiting nursing homes, children in hospitals, etc. For every story that made a splash or a wave in the local media, another handful were kept behind the scenes and were simply done as a kind gesture. Rarely has a Kentucky player been so aware of his ability to make an impact and touch people in a positive way, going above and beyond to soak up every opportunity. You could tell that Noel took a page from John Calipari’s book when it comes to realizing the potential positive influence you can have when put in a certain position in the community. Kudos to Noel for taking advantage of that to his maximum ability during his year in Lexington.

3) The way he played

Noel’s polished basketball game still has a long way to go, and most would willingly and freely admit that when talking about him. Noel was clearly one of the first (and only) players to completely buy into just how hard you have to play under Calipari to succeed in college basketball. Noel’s heart, effort and determination at times carried the rest of his teammates, almost dragging them along.

4) The way he was injured

Noel’s injury occurred almost exactly how you would expect it to for a guy who played with as much hustle and effort as he did. Noel was injured in rather horrific fashion while hitting an all out sprint to chase a ball back on defense. It was the kind of play that only Nerlens Noel on this team would have made. The magnitude of what was shown on screen, along with the attention focused on Kentucky during that time, made the overall impact of the injury seem even that much more significant.

5) The “what might have been?” factor

Any time a player’s Kentucky career is cut short (think Derek Anderson), the mind of the fan is always left to travel to the “what might have been?” train of thought. When Noel went down, not only did the hopes of the team wobble heavily, but on a personal level– Noel also never had the chance to complete an entire season of college basketball. Noel was playing at a high level, finally beginning to garner some of the respect and attention he deserved nationally for his talents on the defensive end.

6) Noel in comparison to the rest of the players on the team

At various points in the season, almost every player on this Kentucky team left fans with head-scratching moments, or moments of frustration and disappointment. In comparison to some of his teammates’ woes throughout the season, Noel’s steady effort and commitment to help his team in whatever way possible began to look even more appealing to the fan base.

7) Potential #1 Draft Pick

If Noel hears his name called first in this year’s NBA draft, his legacy will balloon even more slightly. In a school history littered with plenty of success and successful individual players, being drafted as the #1 pick in the NBA places you into a select and rather small category of players. With Calipari, that number of players from Kentucky is growing and will likely continue to grow– but Noel will always be remembered as a guy who went #1 (if most of the predictions hold true). The feat is even more incredible considering he didn’t get to finish his season and he is on the mend from a torn ACL.

8) The way he speaks about his time at Kentucky… the way he left

Not every Kentucky player leaves on the best note with the fan base and the school. Just ask Daniel Orton, and perhaps Archie Goodwin even. While the general population of Big Blue Nation usually wishes nothing but good things upon the departing Wildcats, regardless of the situation, not even Kentucky player leaves on as good of a note as Nerlens Noel. Between the way he gave his all on the court, the horrifying injury, his relationship and reaching out to the fan base, his kind words when departing regarding his time at Kentucky and his relationship with Coach Cal, etc… Noel and Kentucky will say goodbye on nearly perfect terms. We couldn’t have asked much more of the young man in his short time in Lexington given the circumstances.


Will Nerlens Noel be considered one of Kentucky’s greatest players? Will he be remembered in every conversation about Kentucky’s impressive past? Probably not on either count. Noel will always be remembered in a positive way though. Though his legacy has some missing pieces that both he and the fans likely would have enjoyed, Big Blue Nation will bid farewell to Nerlens Noel on great terms.

Good luck, Nerlens.


Article written by Ally Tucker

I once successfully requested "The Wobble" to be played 6 times at one wedding.

35 Comments for Nerlens Noel’s Legacy

  1. Nerlens' Flat Top
    2:08 pm April 24, 2013 Permalink

    He will always be remembered for …. Just kidding 1st!!

  2. Chas
    2:14 pm April 24, 2013 Permalink

    Well said!

  3. Cal's Pal
    2:18 pm April 24, 2013 Permalink

    Good lord! Who is the “Turn off the lights” young lady in the top ad. I’d like to turn her lights off.. or somthin like that.

  4. Hazard Kidd-Katt
    2:18 pm April 24, 2013 Permalink

    One of the greatest shot blockers at UK, if not the greatest, I’ve ever seen. A person doesn’t forget that.

  5. Chicago Chris
    2:19 pm April 24, 2013 Permalink

    I like Nerlens and I loved the way he played, but there’s not much of a legacy to be had for 2/3 of one of the worst seasons in recent history. Not his fault, but just the way it is.

  6. Billy
    2:19 pm April 24, 2013 Permalink

    Die hard cardinal fan here. I could careless what goes on at UK. But you have a real class kid here boys. I have seen some interviews with him and was so impressed. I am so happy to see him doing well in rehab, his character alone will make him a success. I like these feel good stories there needs to be more. We hear about the few idiots in sports and lose sight that 99% of these guys and gals are great kids.If Cal can bring 1 and dones in that will make impacts on other peoples lives more power to him.I hope we can put aside the rivalry for a minute and just appreciate how lucky we are to have the excitement regarding athletics statewide that we do. This doesnt happen often.

  7. Bankerbh
    2:20 pm April 24, 2013 Permalink

    Like the player but don’t see him in the same light as others mentioned I the article or the likes of an Anthony Davis or MKG. The others were with the program for multiple years and contributed more to its advancement than did Noel.

  8. Jackson Purchase
    2:21 pm April 24, 2013 Permalink

    @5 I agree a legacy for playing 20 games? No way!

  9. tyrus
    2:24 pm April 24, 2013 Permalink

    Nothing can be said about Noel that can’t be or hasn’t been said about former players over the many many years. Agree #5

  10. TShlew
    2:26 pm April 24, 2013 Permalink

    5 & 8: Legacies aren’t strictly confined to the court. Nerlens made a huge impact off of the court as well, and THAT is the legacy he leaves behind. The guy who gave back to the community in a big way, even though he knew he would only be here for a year.

  11. SoCal Will
    2:27 pm April 24, 2013 Permalink

    Very insightful Ally. Thanks. Nerlens has shown us all a beautiful soul.

  12. therivalry
    2:28 pm April 24, 2013 Permalink

    Keep Calm. Russ and Chane and Kevin and Wayne and Luke and Stephen and Montrezl and Zach are coming BACK. Plus two 5-star PGs

  13. therivalry
    2:29 pm April 24, 2013 Permalink

    Good luck next year. Your 17 yr olds will be playing against men that have already won a national title. The region 8 district championship doesn’t exactly stack up.

  14. STEVE!
    2:38 pm April 24, 2013 Permalink

    Great kid off the court, but unfortunately his basketball legacy will be that he was the best of a bad lot in 2012-2013, and his hustle was the highlight. He wouldn’t have made much of an impact on the 2010 or 2012 teams.

  15. Bankerbh
    2:42 pm April 24, 2013 Permalink

    #10….five years from now almost everyone will be pressed to recall his off the court contributions. I think his legacy will be the guy that out hustled a lack luster team and seemed to have so much going for him…..then tore up his knee and sat out the rest of the year. Yet worst of all is he played on the team that fitted knocked out of nit in the first round.

  16. 14, Are you kidding?
    2:46 pm April 24, 2013 Permalink

    He wouldn’t have made much of an impact on the 2010/2012 teams? Yeah, Im sure Daniel Orton definitely would have gotten those minutes over him and Big Cuz never would have needed a sub bc he never got in foul trouble. I’m not going to go further bc that comment is ludicrous.

  17. KYKiller
    2:53 pm April 24, 2013 Permalink

    @therivalry oooooooooooooo kkkkkkkkkkk lol
    if this would had been a good year in NCAA BBall your national chumpions
    woulda lost in the sweet 16.

  18. LeX
    2:54 pm April 24, 2013 Permalink

    Russ smith returning to Louisville? Eh?

  19. Ky
    2:55 pm April 24, 2013 Permalink

    No legacy left behind, just a what could have been. He’s a great person and glad he was a wildcat but he doesn’t compare to the above mentioned players and their legacies like Jodie tayshaun and Patrick p. there is a very long list of players that have left a legacy at uk an oII don’t see him on it. The way I look at it is when kids are growing up as uk fans, there are players we love to talk about and stories to tell about them and he just isn’t one of them. He didn’t play long enough

  20. Ky
    2:59 pm April 24, 2013 Permalink

    If he does make a legacy list he’s on the bottom

  21. rainman
    3:06 pm April 24, 2013 Permalink

    I thought this was KSR, not LOSERVILLE,SR?

  22. Syrin
    3:11 pm April 24, 2013 Permalink

    Nerlens will always be one of my all time favorite players at UK

  23. Big Blue B-Rad
    3:31 pm April 24, 2013 Permalink

    The Rivalry, I just have a very quick question to ask you. Last year, I was told how obnoxious it was when a team’s fanbase would refer to past championships. Well now that Louisville has their first title since 1986, is it ok to talk about past championships now?

  24. RightHandMan
    3:33 pm April 24, 2013 Permalink

    Noel might not go down as one of Kentucky’s best players ever – but he will always be remembered as one who COULD have been one of their best players ever. What was impressive about Noel was that he had to follow Davis’ defensive presence and managed to do it. He might not have put up the numbers that Davis did, but he also didn’t have the support that Davis had. He never seemed to mind the unfair comparison and always had a good attitude and always played his hardest. We’ve had a number of people play here who have a hard time with playing their hardest when things go bad (Jones, Poythress, Harrow), but he did to the end.

  25. L1C4 is LAME
    3:34 pm April 24, 2013 Permalink

    Two 5 star point guards????? Did I miss something? Think its another example of them talkin out their ass again. And look at the scrubs he mentioned lol!!!!

  26. I Say
    3:36 pm April 24, 2013 Permalink

    Why must you stretch everything you write in to 3000 words?! Too wordy

  27. Big Blue B-Rad
    3:58 pm April 24, 2013 Permalink

    25) I bet they also think last year’s championship team would beat UK’s 2012 chamionship team.

  28. theWilkman
    4:14 pm April 24, 2013 Permalink

    Nerlens always went HAM and will be remembered forever because of it.

  29. L1C4 is LAME
    4:15 pm April 24, 2013 Permalink

    27 the dumbasses do think that ive heard them. Morons. Most ignorant fan base ive ever seen! Talk sports out their ass.

  30. Stanley
    4:22 pm April 24, 2013 Permalink

    Legacy? Legacy? Maybe a Leg acebandagey.

    Who cares? this guy came to KY and played a couple months. He had to go somewhere for a year to go to the NBA. He wanted to play for Cal, not Kentucky?

    Give me a break. You sports guys have to make up bullshit to justify your existence.

  31. huh
    4:59 pm April 24, 2013 Permalink

    This might be just me, but I’m confused as to why Louisville fans care what players Kentucky fans choose to remember. I couldn’t care less what players Louisville fans say “left a legacy”. The legacy IS A LEGACY TO KENTUCKY FANS. Absolutely idiotic for a U of L fan, or any fan, to tell another fan what players are worth remembering. If I’m going to remember him (as I will with Nerlens), I’ll do so with or without Louisville fans telling me I shouldn’t.

  32. msnthrop
    7:16 pm April 24, 2013 Permalink

    It’s like the writers on this site live in a fantasy world…nerlens noel one of the greatest Kentucky players ever…40-0…what further nonsense can be spouted by these people? A guy who plays 24 games in the uniform will NEVER be even in the conversation of who is the best Kentucky player.

  33. gotoyourownboard32,30,13,12
    7:32 pm April 24, 2013 Permalink

    Good luck Nerlens. Enjoyed watching you play. Your NBA career may cement your legacy here as one who could have been one of the all time greats. Hope you have a great career. Seriously 20? I’d say you are on the bottom.

  34. Gavin
    8:55 am April 25, 2013 Permalink

    I just know that he is taking the time to stop and talk at my son’s elementary school today. That says a lot about him

  35. Ben Damron
    8:56 pm April 25, 2013 Permalink

    Nerlins legacy at UK goes well beyond what he did on the court. Although what he did on the court was amazing. He went all out every minute he was out there and was not selfish. He seemed to care more about trying to help the team win than how many points or touches he got. Give me that guy over someone like Kobe or Carmelo who are guys i refer to as black hole players (also known as Austin Rivers Syndrome) . You know those guy that once they catch the ball it’s lost in that hole because no one else will see it and less they get that rebound. I would rather lose with a team full of Nerlins type guys than win with one or me guys. Nerlins has a heart so big he will do well no matter what he chooses to do.

    Thanks Nerlins,