By Keith Taylor, Winchester Sun
When his team needs a burst of energy, John Calipari turns to Nerlens Noel to give the Wildcats a boost.
“(He’s) an energy guy, not a skill guy,” the Kentucky coach said. “(He’s) not an up-and-under swing, hook guy, that’s not who (he is). He’s an energy guy.”
The freshman forward had seven points and seven blocks in Kentucky’s 74-46 victory over Portland Saturday at Rupp Arena. Noel’s seven swats were a season-high for the Wildcats. Although not a flashy scorer, Noel has been consistent on the glass and has collected at least six boards in the team’s nine games this season and collected nine boards against the outmanned Pilots.
Noel said he is continually working on his skills in the post, but added that he’s not going to let up when it comes to his intensity level. He added that he wants to take his offensive game to another level in the post.
“The energy (level) is just a given and I’m always going to play with that,” he said. “I’ve still got to put it together skill-wise and it will go well for me. It will take a lot of work and I definitely want to put in more work. He just wants to make sure I constantly work my butt off to where I can be a special player.”
Prior to Kentucky’s last outing, Noel developed tendinitis in his knee, but didn’t let the soreness hinder his performance against the Pilots and said the soreness flares up from “time to time.”
“It came up in the warm-ups, it was just like soreness,” he said. “I get it from time to time when I play a lot like we have been in the past week. It was tough early on but then it started to loosen up and I was able to play hard, less pain. It was a long week with conditioning and a long week with basketball. I just get some soreness from playing a lot. It’s usually the left knee, but sometimes it’s the other knee, too.”
Noel said the Cats improved during the first week of December after entering the holiday month following back-to-back losses — a road setback at Notre Dame — followed by a home defeat to Baylor, ending the team’s 55-game home winning streak. He said the outing against Portland was a confidence-booster for the Wildcats.
“I think we’ve made progress,” Noel said. “I felt it was definitely a step forward for this team. We got some more confidence in what we are able to do and how he (coach John Calipari) wants us to play.”
Once finals are over, Noel will get a chance to elevate his offensive game and envisions the rest of the team “taking steps forward” during the next three weeks and going into the Christmas break.
“We’re going to make a lot of progress,” he said. “It’s going to be a lot of work, but we’re going to get it done,” he said. “We’re not where we should be right now but we’ve been coming to work and we’re definitely willing to make strides.”
Noel added that he believes the team can land back in the Top 10 by season’s end and return to elite status in the collegiate ranks.
“We’ve definitely got the potential,” he said. “We’ve got the players, the (right) pieces and the coaching staff,” he said. “We’ve just got to work on some things and bring it all together.”