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By LARRY VAUGHT
Even though he blocked just two shots in Saturday’s overtime win at Texas A&M, Nerlens Noel once again made a big impression on the Aggies.
‘You’ve got to give him credit. He’s a great shot-blocker. We knew he was going to try and block everything. We wanted to try to make him try and block shots and have him get off his feet so we could get to the foul line,” said Texas A&M senior forward Ray Turner. “We knew he was going to try and block everything.”
Noel, who had 12 blocks in a win at Mississippi Tuesday, had 19 points and 14 rebounds in the victory. Yet his shot blocking ability is what remains the main topic about him nationally. He has 97 blocks in 21 games and seems to become more dominating each game. He averages 10.6 points, 9.5 rebounds, 4.6 blocks, 2.2 steals and 1.6 assists per game.
Noel has had to learn to balance his natural anticipation to block shots with the discipline to not leave his feet too early, something he had trouble with early in the season.
“At the beginning of the season, I had a tendency to leave my feet, being too anxious to block shots. And that’s when I was coming up with maybe only two, three, four blocks a game. Coming from high school, it was just a whole different type of game,” Noel said. “But coach Cal definitely helped me with that, did a lot of drills that got me right. I just got really adjusted to this game at this level, and it’s really come a long way defensively for me.”
He said his timing is better now, too, when he attempts to block shots.
“You definitely get a feel for what players at this level’s tendencies are because it’s a lot different than high school. They try to get more body contact and really try to take advantage of shot-blockers,” Noel said. “I try to keep it equal. There’s times when I won’t try to block the shot — just hands straight up — and just always have them guessing what you’re going to do next.”
He enjoys seeing opponents back away or alter shots because of his presence, something that is happening more and more.
“It’s always nice to see that, especially when you block someone’s shot and then they don’t look the same for the rest of the game coming to the basket. It helps everybody,” Noel said. “You can tell them, ‘Just play the shot, even if they’re a good shooter. Just play the shot and I’ll make sure to protect the rim.’ That can throw off a team’s whole game plan if their specialty is getting to the rim, if they struggle shooting the ball. So I just do what I do best.”
Ole Miss senior forward Murphy Holloway called Noel the best shot blocker ever and said he was better than Anthony Davis, last year’s top shot blocker and consensus player of the year for UK’s national championship team.
“Anthony was a good shot blocker, but it’s nothing really to get up about. Still got a long way to go and that’s the only thing I’m really focused on right now is working on my game,” Noel said. “I want the team to go as far as we can for the team, not just for a record that I want to break. If the team goes far, it’s for the team to win a championship, and that’s the main goal.”
Noel said he doesn’t have to keep track of how he’s faring compared to Davis’ record pace for blocks shots last year because others tell him.
“That’s something I do want to break, but that’s not really the focus of the season. I’m just doing my best for this team so we can have the best chance to go as far as we can,” Noel said. “My focus is definitely to be a complete basketball player, and I know shot-blocking is one of my specialties. Blocking shots has been from a young age. I always took pride in it and just continuously built on it. It’s been probably the best things I’ve done.”