NBA Sunday: Noel Admits He Has Work To Do
Senior NBA Writer & College Basketball Editor
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Just about every 2013 NBA mock draft has Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel ranked as the top overall prospect over the likes of UCLA’s Shabazz Muhammad, Indiana’s Cody Zeller, and a few of his future teammates.
That creates a ton of pressure every time Noel steps on the court. Although the draft is over 300 days away and his collegiate debut isn’t until November, Noel is expected to already be great.
A lot of people got their first glimpse of Noel at adidas Nations and the reviews were far from stellar. Clearly not in shape after focusing mainly on academics and becoming eligible this summer, Noel struggled mightily against fellow freshman and more-experienced college players.
It was a reality check for talent evaluators that Noel, who didn’t anoint himself as the top overall prospect, has a long ways to go before reaching the standards that have been set for him. It was not a reality check for Noel, though, because he’s far more realistic about where he’s currently at.
“I do think I need a lot of work but I feel that I didn’t compete at the best level I needed to especially not being at a college program like the rest of these guys,” Noel said to HOOPSWORLD. “I felt that I wasn’t really fine tuned with my game but once I get to school and I get into a college program and really get to working with the coaches and working on my body I feel that everything will come together and prepare me for whatever arises during the season.
“There’s a lot more that I’ve got to do, and a lot more I think I’m able to do. I’ve just got to be able to have the mentality to be more aggressive and be able to keep working. I know things will start falling, especially when I get to school. Not be like all the rest of the guys have the benefits of being at a college program this summer and I know that it will come. I wasn’t in the best shape but I know that.”
Noel was well aware of how his poor play at Nations became headline news.
“You can only listen to so much,” Noel said. “You take some negativity in from the right people, that’ll give you good negative criticism on what you have to work on. You can’t just take in what anybody’s saying. You’ve got to know what you can do better from the right people. It’s gotten pretty crazy but I always keep a level head, make sure the people around me just stay positive.”
Nobody fits the right person description better than his head coach John Calipari. Coach Cal has yet to work with Noel yet, but the countdown has begun.
“[Calipari] does a great job of keeping all of his players out of that attention and just keeping them focused on getting better and focus on their academics,” Noel said. “That’s the great thing about Kentucky and Coach Calipari.
“He’s a player’s first coach. He cares about his players so much. He wants what’s best for his players and he really knows how to develop you to play at the next level and how to keep his players in line and really compete for a championship with a lot of great players on one team.”
While so much of the talk surround the Wildcats is focused on Noel, he isn’t foolish enough to think that even at his best he can win a championship by himself.
“Our whole team’s going to be key contributors in the role of getting another championship,” Noel said. “I think we’ve got a lot of work to do over this offseason but I think if we get our mind to it we can achieve that.
“I know about everybody on the team. Developing a great chemistry before you get there is crucial so you can have the brotherhood like the past six players did. They were just all so close and cared about each other and that was a lot of Coach Calipari’s recognition that nobody was selfish and that’s something that I’m looking forward to having: a good brotherhood with them.”
As an individual, Noel’s primary duty will be serving as the Wildcat’s defensive anchor. His shot-blocking ability with both hands was one of the main reasons why he became the nation’s top recruit. However, Noel is expecting to have an equally-large impact on the offensive end.
“I think my offense is there,” Noel said. “Not 100% there but I think I’ve been working on that, I think I see a lot of pathways for me to becoming a good offensive player.”
Noel’s offensive game and strength are two of the things he plans on working on the most once he arrives in Lexington, Kentucky. By the time we see him wear the Wildcat’s blue and white for the first time he should be leaps and bounds better than the Noel who struggled at Nations. Ultimately, it will be what he does during the 2012-13 NCAA season that determines whether or not he really is the premier prospect.
“I want to be as good as I can be,” Noel said. “I want to be the best player I can be. I want to be great.
“I think the hype is real. I think I’m going to live up to the hype, I’m going to work that much harder so I can be the best player I can be.”
Team USA Goes For Gold
The 2012 London Olympics come to an end today but before the closing ceremonies Team USA and Spain will battle it out for the gold medal in men’s basketball at 10 am EST just as they did at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
That close contest was won by the Americans, who are a 21-point favorite heading into today’s game, 118-107. 10 players, five from each team, played four years ago as well.
Spain has had their struggle during the Olympics. Meanwhile, Team USA has been dominant as expected. They got a scare from Lithuania in pool play, but other than that they have simply outclassed their opponents by being bigger, stronger, more athletic and more skilled.
No matter the outcome, this marks an end of an era Team USA teams as there will be a different look at the 2016 Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Team USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski has made it clear that this will be his last game, as has guard Kobe Bryant. Several other veterans will undoubtedly follow suit, possibly forcefully.
While the talk of being better than the 1992 Dream Team may be a bit lofty, there’s no denying how incredibly talented this squad is. This could be the last time we see all-time greats representing the USA together in their primes, so make sure to set your DVR if you can’t watch it live because they will play as if it is Game 7 in the Finals.
As overmatched as Spain may seem, they are too talented to count out. They’ve yet to put together a complete game and could be saving their best for last. They too have a lot of players who won’t be back come 2016, so they will have the same sense of urgency and desperation to grasp the moment that the Americans have.
Up Close With Craig Smith
Free agent forward Craig Smith is currently training at Impact Basketball in Los Angeles, California as he waits to find out who he’ll be playing with next. Rather than growing frustrated over being unsigned, Smith has instead focused on improving his versatility. He talks about that and more in this exclusive interview with HOOPSWORLD.