The time is near for us to say our final farewells to Nerlens Noel. Nerlens is a guy that most Wildcats fans wish they had seen more of, and I think many of us feel significant remorse at having been cheated by the injury bug of a full season of his prodigious skillset.
There was a press conference today featuring Noel, and he discussed his injury rehabilitation and what his one year as a Kentucky Wildcat meant to him, as well as how he made his decision to move on to the NBA Draft.
I like his comments about not focusing on anything right now except his rehabilitation, which is exactly what he should be doing. The crap about whether or not he’ll be #1 is something far beyond his control now. He can’t work out, he can’t improve his draft stock, he just has to trust to the process and the fact that his doctors have been able to keep the NBA people who are interested appraised, to some degree, about the prognosis for his recovery.
Here’s Nerlens himself, talking about it, courtesy of CoachCal.com.
Nerlens also commented about the Boston Marathon bombing, and I know that really had to affect him. It’s tough seeing your home town go through something like that, being so far away and basically just unable to do anything. I feel for all Bostonians who had to watch their hometown on the news day after day as a reminder of that tragedy.
Noel also avoided the one-and-done injury controversy, calling it "… a lot of politics." He’s exactly right. There is no way to "perfect" athletics so that athletes are completely insulated from injury. I think having the NCAA or schools pay for a catastrophic injury policy is the right thing to do for athletes with a bona-fide chance at a professional career. I also think the NCAA should allow grants-in-aid as non-counters for any athlete who suffers a career-ending injury in school, and that we should shame any school who doesn’t pay the rest of their way if they lose their athletic ability.
Noel’s situation has raised awareness of the dangers of collegiate athletics, and is one of the highest-profile basketball athletes to suffer a severe, potentially career-threatening injury in a long time. As few as 20 years ago, Noel’s injury would have been a likely career-ender.
What I love about Nerlens is that, judging from his comments, he takes life as it comes. Whatever is put in front of him, he accepts it as a challenge rather than bemoaning his fate. That’s the attitude of a champion, and we in the Big Blue Nation have known Nerlens was a champion almost from the day he showed up on campus.
Unlike some of his peers, Noel never hung his head and never gave up on any play or any game. The very play in which he was injured was a 94-foot sprint to stop a layup his teammates had given up on. They had barely crossed half-court when Noel made the final block of his Kentucky Wildcats career.
The Big Blue Nation was robbed of Nerlens too early, but he isn’t dwelling on it and he clearly loved his time here. He maintained that UK logo in the back of his trademark high-top fade the entire time he was here, and that always made me think of him as a very special player, and special person.
Nerlens’ time here at Kentucky was far too brief, more so than any of his peers who have spent only one season in the Bluegrass. But in that 23 1/2 games, he played a season’s worth.
We’ll miss you, Nerlens, and we’ll be watching you when you hit the big time.