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By HAL MORRIS, Advocate-Messenger
Kentucky freshman Nerlens Noel came to UK knowing the comparisons to Anthony Davis were inevitable. But Noel said he just has to be his own player, and not be someone he’s not. “I don’t worry about it, but I understand why people say it,” Noel said. “I know at the at the end of the day, I’m my own player and that’s what I’m going to bring to the table every time out.”
The 6-11 center from Boston shared his thoughts on the upcoming season, how much he trusts coach John Calipari, UK’s assistant coaches, winning a national title and more during UK’s Media Day:
Question: How has your life been in Lexington since arriving this summer?
Noel: It’s been hectic, but I’ve been making the adjustment to college life and have been really focused on my academics and getting better on the court. It’s just been real busy, just focusing on staying on task, just working real hard. The coaching staff has been pushing us hard and I really feel that we’ve been coming a long way since we’ve gotten here and coming together as a team.”
Question: What part of your game have you been working on?
Noel: “I’ve just been working on my all-around game. Working on my skill set from 15 feet in. I’ve been putting in a lot of work on offense) and it’s coming along. I’ve just been putting in a lot of work and I’m comfortable where I’m at. A lot of hook shots, a lot of positioning and a free-throw line jumper.”
Question: How has been dealing with the attention UK players get?
Noel: “It hasn’t been too hectic. We get about 10-15 fans per day outside the (Wildcat Coal) Lodge asking for autographs. I knew what it was when I was coming here, and I came prepared. But these fans, you’ve got to love them because they appreciate you and you appreciate them. And you have to show them some love back.”
Question: Can anything prepare you for fishbowl you live in as a UK player?
Noel: “You’re going to hear about it, just the high expectations. But until you’re here, you haven’t experienced it at all. My senior year of high school after I committed , I was hearing a lot of things. Obviously you can’t buy into the hype, but until you’re here you haven’t experienced it.”
Question: What is it about Calipari that makes him relate so well to players, and makes him able to get great players to come to Kentucky and play together?
Noel: “Other coaches may tell you what you want to hear, but at the end of the day Coach Cal is going to tell you what’s going to get the job done, what’s really going to get you better. And that’s a good quality in a coach and that’s the reason Cal is who he is.”
Question: How much trust do you have in Calipari to get you where you want to go?
Noel: “I have 100 percent trust. Coach Cal’s a very influential person, I really trust him, and just his track record speaks for itself in what he’s done. He’s very influential to me, just the type of person he is. He doesn’t tell you lies, he tells you what has to be done, what you have to do to be where you want to be and he just keeps it real?
Question: What do you think of point guard Ryan Harrow’s haircut?
Noel: “I loved it. It was just a good bonding thing, good chemistry, seeing him with that knowing how much he cares and how much he puts into that. And, it’s good look for him.”
Question: What have assistant coaches (Kenny) Payne and (Orlando) Antigua taught you?
Noel: They really push you to get you to where you want to be, and they’re great people to look up to. I appreciate them.”
Question: Are you surprised how fast the team has bonded together as a group?
Noel: “No, most of us had prior relationships before coming here. And we’ve had a god vibe since I’ve gotten here. It’s just a close-knit group. We’ve all become our own brothers keepers and that’s something that will last a lifetime after we leave Kentucky.”
Question: How intimidating will it be if Kentucky can put two guys 7-feet tall (Noel, Willie Cauley-Stein) along the front line?
Noel: “I think it will be very intimidating, especially coming down the lane always having the thought that you’re going up against (Cauley-Stein). But he always has a backup. If I go for the blocked shot, I might not always get, it but Willie will be right there and he might get it.”
Question: How often do you think about winning a national championship?
Noel: “I think about it every day. That’s the main goal we want to do, to get that ninth banner for Kentucky.”
Question: Is Kentucky’s inexperience a concern or more of a media story?
Noel: “More of a media story. Because you see what coach Cal’s done just with last year’s team. It will probably be like the same situation this year with not much experience coming back, and coach Cal does a great job bringing young guys in and showing them the ropes.”
Question: Calipari tells recruits Kentucky is not for everybody. What made you think Kentucky was for you?
Noel: “Just the way it was. I always had a good feeling about it. Just the family-oriented feeling here, a lot of coaches that really care about the players. They take them under their wings and help them get to where they want to be as players and people.”