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Nerlens Noel: A Family Emergency

A day in the life. And it was not a good day either.

Kentucky: It's a family thing, you wouldn't understand.
Kentucky: It's a family thing, you wouldn't understand.

The sun barely came up Wednesday morning. It was a grey, cold, rainy morning, which quickly turned a little colder and snow started falling. Feeling less like a fan and more like a worried parent, I kept my cell phone on wi-fi, and had twitter up on the screen, waiting for news. Any news. Some glimmer of hope that the young man who had spent the last year of his life giving Kentucky, its fans, and the rest of the world a non-stop highlight reel of amazing feat after amazing feat on the basketball court, might come out of a horrific situation unscathed.

After lunch, and the morning coffee started wearing off, I stayed close by waiting for the news. Then it came. My heart dropped about 24 inches and I felt physically sick. I decided not to say or do anything until I let it settle in, because I wanted to get some perspective.

No, as bad as some people will find it out there on the net, most of us were not worried about banners, Tennessee, or even the loss to Florida. You know why? Because we beat Florida 8 or 9 times out of 10. We beat Tennessee more than that. We have plenty of banners hanging in the rafters of Rupp, and there will be plenty more. It's not arrogance, it is a fact. But what's sickening is that this young man is going to spend the next few months, waiting and wondering. Without any certainty. Worrying about his future.

Not about money. John Calipari said he was insured, though probably not for as much as an NBA career pays. Probably more than enough for him to finish going to school and get a degree in something to make him a productive member of society, and not just another basketball casualty statistic, though. I'm glad for him in that respect.

No, this is about the dream. See, we all have dreams too, even though some are lost along the way. No big deal. Some, they even come back around, although they are few and usually far between. For now, Nerlens' dream is replaced by pain and suffering. He has to do everything his doctors, trainers, coaches, and specialists tell him to. He does not have the luxury of sitting back and lamenting on what he might have lost. He has to throw everything at his dream once again and start over from scratch -- relearn how to do the one thing that makes his dream possible. He can't cry over it, let it get to him, or pout about what might have been. He has to get back to work, because his life just got a lot tougher.

What breaks the heart is that this young man has sacrificed a lot for his dream. Along the way he amazed myself and others. He did things that we could not do, even if we had Nerlens to do them for us.

When it happened, no one could help him. We were truly helpless, listening to the announcers talk about what had happened, and how bad it looked. For all the advances the world has made, the technological improvements that have made it possible for us to sit in our living rooms and talk to China, there is no magic medical "fix" for what happened. Instead, it is a repair, and then a long, painful rehabilitation.

We all saw it. The scream, the fall, the coach and players and trainers standing over him. The players picking him up and carrying him to the locker room. The amazement from the crowd as the entire team carried him from the court.

It was hard to believe that everything that the young man had worked his whole life was now cast into doubt. See, nothing is guaranteed in this life. I knew a man once in the music industry blessed with more musical talent in his little finger than most virtuoso musicians have in their entire body. He could not, however, put aside his disrespect and arrogance for those who were less talented, and in the end, he first lost his voice, then control of his hands to sickness and disease.

I don't see that kind of thing as karma. I hate that word. Trying to put a label on someone by saying, "guess you got what was coming to you" -- that is arrogance and ignorance rolled up in the worst kind of a package. No one "deserves" pain and suffering. No one deserves to have their hopes and dreams come crashing to the ground in an instant, through no fault of their own.

Time passed Wednesday, and the sun came out later for brief periods of time. Not much, but just enough to remind me that it's usually darkest just before the dawn. Enough for me to see that things change. People go on. I thought to myself this morning as my knee was giving me my usual morning difficulties, quit your whining. Your's is fixed and it works. That kid got up this morning to pain, uncertainty, and chaos in a life that only the night before was focused and honed to a razor's edge.

We all want to believe that Nerlens will recover, however doctors most of us are not. We know that Nerlens will do whatever it takes to rehabilitate his knee and get back to the top of his game. We pray that those things will be enough. Not because we want to see him return to his Kentucky jersey, but because he sacrificed a lot of his childhood working on his dream, and in the process, trying to make our lives a little better as fans. Nerlens is the kind of a kid that would play with no promise of tomorrow.

Am I canonizing him? In my mind, I sincerely hope so. I cannot speak well enough of a young man who brought so much joy to the fans in such a short time. Watching him fly all over the place, swatting everything that came within his reach, and making his opponents wish they had never even heard of him. He's like one of our own children.

That's what the Big Blue Nation is. A family. Those are our kids out there giving their all. Our chests swell with pride when they succeed. We lose patience when they don't do what they are supposed to. We laugh with them, cry with them, and we hold them dear to our heart while they are here, and then far beyond. The only thing we care about is that they decided to put on that jersey and give their all. They did it for themselves, but they also did it for us. That's what family does. They do things for each other. I love this family, warts and all. Get well soon Nerlens. Go on and become successful and make a life and a name for yourself.

Just never forget who your family is. Because we will never forget about you.