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By LARRY VAUGHT
Anthony Davis spent some time playing against Nerlens Noel in pick-up games in Lexington in September after Davis returned from the London Olympics, where he was part of the gold medal-winning U.S. team. He told UK coach John Calipari that Noel could block shots. Then Calipari asked him how Noel was offensively and Davis told Calipari that he “kind of pushed” Noel off the post.
“I said, ‘You pushed him off the post?’ Which is kind of like, we have to teach the kid how to sit down and hold your position,” Calipari said. “He will not ever be Shaq (Shaquille O’Neal). That’s not how he is. But he is really quick and fast, and he has a quick twitch.
“If a kid is not quick going to the ball or reacting to the ball, he can’t play. I don’t care what you say. He cannot play. If a kid is quick, really quick going to the ball, now he has a chance of being special. Anthony was really quick getting to balls. Michael (Kidd-)Gilchrist was really quick. Now we had two that were just bang to balls. This kid is the same way. He’s the quickest on our team getting to balls and doing stuff like that. If he’s on the baseline or high-post area with handoffs and rolls and all that stuff, he will finish with dunks.
“But he is not in shape right now. His behind, back hurts. No kidding. You are out of shape. He just started here, but I think he will be fine.”
Noel said that during the brief workouts he has been allowed to have with coaches since arriving at UK in mid-August following the completion of his academic work — he had to take summer school classes after reclassifying — he has been working on his skill set within 15 feet of the basket.
“Just teaching me a few things around the basket, whether it is to establish post position or just how to shoot the ball in a particular way. It has really been benefitting me on the court. I really feel it is helping me out to score and do certain things I didn’t know I could do,” he said.
“I think my offensive game is actually better than some know. We will see when the time is right. It is something I have been working on for a while, even since I have been here. These coaches really know how to bring you along and add aspects to your game.”
Can Noel make improvements offensively much like Davis did last year?
“Definitely. I want to do that. With the right mindset and a good work ethic, I feel that I could develop as a player in a significant way, especially offensively,” he said.
Noel admitted he was “anxious” to get to Kentucky when he was having to finish summer school classes while freshmen Alex Poythress, Archie Goodwin and Willie Cauley-Stein were already on campus working out and taking classes.
“I knew what I had to do, and that is what I really focused on to apply myself to my academics that I had to take care of this summer. The day I finished I was ready to be here,” he said.
“I love this team. (We’ve become) real close already in the few weeks I’ve been here. The whole team has been together. I think it is a real special team, and I think we will be doing a lot of things this season as long as we stay together and work hard. We have a high ceiling for this season.
“I am the guy who likes pressure. I definitely go off of it. I really apply myself to really prove what I have to prove, and I think we have a lot of other guys on this team that are the same way.”
Noel has had to endure several queries by the NCAA into his eligibility and numerous media reports about his recruitment and associations after his transfer from a Massachusetts high school to a private school in New Hampshire. He was also originally in the 2012 graduating class, reclassified to the 2013 class and then changed back to 2012.
“They (NCAA) do this kind of review with a bunch of kids. And they review when you change, when you are reclassifying, there is a red flag. Then some people are mad that you reclassified and there’s another red flag. You go through the process. It’s a review, but we fell confident about it,” Calipari said in mid-September.
If eligibility questions or concerns about who paid for some unofficial visits he took during his recruitment are bothering Noel, it doesn’t show.
“You always have your mind on right and focus. You get used to it. Nothing that really worries you,” he said.
He also said the notoriety he has had to deal with should help him at Kentucky, where basketball is the center of attention and nothing about UK should overwhelm him.
“No, it is at that point where I know what I have to do to really meet the expectations I want for myself. It is just about working hard,” he said.
Besides, he has already had a one-on-one meeting with Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick.
“It was special. I don’t think everybody does that. It was fun. He is a real good guy,” Noel smiled and said. “It’s a special place to be in the statehouse. At first when I heard it, I was like, ‘Wow. that is something.’ I heard I was really going and said I would definitely do it. Just meeting him was special and seeing what type of person he was a great opportunity for me.”
However, even meeting the governor didn’t make Noel even think about changing his flattop hair style — he had UK cut into the hair when he made his college choice.
“I have had this since about late my freshman year in high school. It has been something that has really grown on me and others. I think it has kind of become my identity in a way. I couldn’t change it now. I don’t think UK fans would want me to change it. They seem to like it,” he said.