Raise your hand if you had a hard time sleeping last night.
As we all sit and wait for news, here are some things to keep in mind. Grab a second cup of coffee and settle in.
First of all, we do not know the extent of the injury yet. But for anyone with a pair of eyes who saw the picture we posted last night, or was brave enough to watch the video that we refuse to post, you know it’s bad. I, for one, couldn’t handle watching the video because there are certain things you can’t unsee. But, from the picture and the haunting screams from Nerlens that pierced the souls of everyone watching, it is hard to think that he will have a quick and easy return to the court. I really hope I’m wrong.
What we know so far: Nerlens was examined last night in Gainesville. He traveled with the team back to Lexington last night and got off the bus on the largest pair of crutches I’ve ever seen. The X-rays taken last night showed no breaks and no fractures and he will undergo an MRI later this morning. And yes, that’s all we know.
What we also know: it is a damn shame. This could not happen to a better person. Nerlens is a big talent, but he has an even bigger heart. From his short time in Lexington, we’ve seen examples of how much Nerlens cares about the community, from visiting the children’s hospital to taking pictures with elderly UK fans at a local nursing home. He struck up a friendship with the late Lane Goodwin and hangs out with Reese Kemp. He doesn’t have to do this stuff. He chooses to. And while this injury, whatever it may be, would be awful for anyone, it is especially cruel for him.
The cruelest part? It happened on a play when Nerlens was being Nerlens–going the extra mile, hustling to do the things his teammates simply weren’t, and putting the team on his back. All season, Nerlens has been the guy on this squad who’s given his all every single night. He’s the one player that we were certain was ready to move on to the NBA not only because he’s that good, but because he is that mature. Nerlens has just recently started to collect accolades for his hard work, but we’ve known all along that he’s the “energy guy” on this squad, who brings hustle and leads by example. The guy loves Kentucky so much that he literally had it shaved into his hair.
Billy Donovan on Noel: “I admire the way he plays. I admire his energy. When you think about it, the injury came from a hustle play. That kind of embodies the way he plays.”
What does this mean for Nerlens? If we’ve learned one thing about Nerlens in his short time at Kentucky, it’s the strength of his character. He will overcome this. He is a hard worker whose passion for the game will take him back to the court. Of that, I’m sure.
Julius Mays: “We are all brothers. Win, lose or draw, we always got each other’s back. We saw him (Noel) down, and just helped him off.”
What does this mean for the team? You should not judge them on their play after Nerlens went down last night. They were obviously out of it, obviously distracted, obviously so concerned about their brother. As for their play before he went down? Yes, it was bad. In fact, it was awful. However, if they do everything right, the pivotal moment of this season won’t be when Nerlens went down, it will be when they banded together to carry him off the court. All season, this squad has lacked unity. Carrying Nerlens off is the ultimate sign of brotherhood, as heartening as any display we’ve seen from this group. Maybe this can serve as a rallying cry for a team that not many are giving a chance now. I hate to use the cliched “Win one for the gipper,” but maybe “Win one for the Big Fella?”
For a player so loved and so deserving of so much more, I can’t imagine a better tribute.