By KEITH TAYLOR, Winchester Sun
Nerlens Noel is taking his game to another level. The freshman forward has a reputation as a shot blocker, but Kentucky coach John Calipari wants Noel to go beyond swatting field goal attempts in the post. Noel did just that in the team’s final exhibition game Monday night at Rupp Arena.
Noel displayed more of his offensive skills in Kentucky’s 74-28 rout of Transylvania, scoring 15 points, with 11 of those coming in the second half as the Wildcats closed the game with a monstrous 57-12 run to put the Pioneers away down the stretch. Noel added four rebounds to go along with one block and a steal in 26 minutes of action on the court.
Although Calipari expects Noel to live up to his reputation of blocking shots as the season progresses, he also wants his freshman forward to concentrate on other areas of his game, including the ability to score in the paint. Against the Pioneers, Noel missed just one field goal on eight attempts, with most of those baskets coming inside the perimeter.
“I want him to be a basketball player who happens to block shots,” Calipari said. “I don’t want him to be a shot blocker, I want him to be a basketball player that happens to block shots. Did you kind of see that today? You’ve seen a basketball player who happens to be able to. And we’re defining his post game.”
Although Noel says he’ll “never stop blocking shots” and that’s “something I’ll always do,” he’s ready to elevate his game to the next level. He showed flashes of that ability against the Pioneers.
“Coach Cal really has confidence in me to develop myself and that’s something I really appreciate in coach Cal,” Noel said. “That’s something I’ll definitely put the work into being — a great all-around basketball player that happens to block shots.”
He’s been working on sharpening his skills since he arrived on campus. Noel entered the program with the “mindset of giving it 110 percent” and said his confidence level has risen since workouts began more than three weeks ago.
“I know that I can go to hoop and score from the block,” he said. “My confidence came from all the drills and repetition in practice. I’m just staying focused.”
Calipari singled out Noel’s improvement following the win over the Pioneers and said Noel has accepted the challenge to become a complete player.
“The guy that’s working the hardest in our practices right now is Nerlens (Noel),” Calipari said. “Is it showing? It’s showing. I said to him, ‘have you ever been coached like this? No, man.’ He’s excited about being coached this way, challenged and pushed, and now I’ve just got to get a team full of guys accepting the fact that you’ve got to let us define your game a little bit.”
Although the Wildcats soundly defeated Transy, Noel said the Cats are still in the learning stages of the season.
“It’s still a learning process with this team and where we’re at,” he said. “We’re just learning.”
Noel has no plans of slowing down going into Friday night’s season opener against Maryland at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.
“I just need to continue to stay focused and continuing to work hard,” Noel said. “I just need to keep being energetic and keep bringing what I have to the table. I just work, everybody works. That’s just the mindset that I have. You’ve got to practice like you play and come in every day and just give it my all, so when I come into a game, it’s like a regular practice.”