I have avoided writing about what the loss of Nerlens Noel means to the team, because right now, the grief of his loss is still to near. We are still in mourning.
Dana O'Neil at ESPN has a piece up that needed to be written. Of course, we here at A Sea of Blue have been focusing on Nerlens, the person for the entire time, especially in the comments, but sports media sites can be forgiven for not doing so. Most of these people are not really Kentucky fans, and they way they cover sports, UK is just a blip on the hit-meter. When Kentucky is hot, they write about it, and when they're not, they write about something else.
Today, Kentucky is hot because Nerlens tore his ACL. Note that I referred to him by his first name, even though he and I are not on that kind of basis. As an injured player, referring to him as "Noel" seems impersonal, uncaring. I may do it out of habit, but not out of preference.
Anyway, to O'Neil's piece:
Instead of prepping for a game against Tennessee, he's now prepping for surgery and a long and lonely road of rehab.
Long? Yes, indeed. Ideally 8 months, just to be sure.
But lonely? Never. Not here. Not in the Big Blue Nation. Nerlens will never be alone at any point unless he wants to be. There will be people helping, encouraging, and making sure he does everything the right way.
Alone? In the bosom of the Big Blue Nation?
He won't return to Kentucky because he will be drafted. The NBA is all about potential and his is limitless. So eventually he'll make his money, too.
But think about how he was injured.
He was doubling back to try to block a shot in a game that was already all but in the books as a Kentucky loss.
The irony of how the injury happened has been debated on Twitter and briefly on here, but just in case you missed it, the issue is this -- he made a hustle play in a game that was all but lost to make up for a mistake he made on the other end, and he successfully blocked the shot. The irony of getting injured while the rest of his teammates (who should have been with him) were on the other end of the floor is not lost on anyone. This is not a knock on them, but an exposition of the kind of young man Nerlens is.
For the past two years, the NCAA has been all but torpedoed by people demanding that college athletes be paid. We've lampooned and criticized the organization for treating its student-athletes as little more than the means to a very profitable end.
Are we any different?
Noel is the interchangeable part of the moment, just like Kyrie Irving was two years ago and Kenyon Martin many years before that.
Gone and though not forgotten, being processed like a piece of meat through the grinder.
So maybe in between dithering over his draft stock and fretting over Kentucky's NCAA tournament hopes, we can pause for a moment and think about Nerlens Noel.
I think that's a good idea, Dana, and this needed to be said. Welcome to where we live.
Once someone is a member of the Kentucky Wildcats, you are stuck with it for life. The Big Blue Nation will obsess about Nerlens through his career from now on, long after he's gone, because that's what we do. We don't forget our own, not even when they can't or don't play anymore. When they are done, we welcome them back home.
So will it be with Nerlens.