Boston High School: Nerlens Noel

In Everett, a long, storied DB tradition

December, 3, 2014
It’s been 15 years since Steve Addazio followed Diamond Ferri on the recruiting trail, and the memories of one of the most unforgettable backs to ever come through storied Everett High still linger like the morning dew. Something about those piercing eyes.

[+] EnlargeDiamond Ferri
AP Photo/Scott BoehmDiamond Ferri, whose brief stay in the NFL included time as a Cardinals running back, is the stuff of legend in Everett.
"He was bright-eyed. He loved football," the Boston College head coach fondly beamed following a practice earlier this fall.

Stories about the dazzling playmaking skills of Ferri -- who has bounced around the CFL for most of the last decade after cups of coffee in the NFL and even a stint on the MMA circuit (he was most recently signed by the Saskatchewan Roughriders on Oct. 9) -- are legion, still resonating loudly through the proud, football-mad city of Everett.

In an era of three yards and a cloud of dust, Ferri was a sports car among pickup trucks. In many eyes, he was the total package -- tackling, catching, blocking, speed, agility, hitting -- and it showed with every turn on a dime from his nimble feet. Never had such deliberate, one-cut downhill running looked so graceful on those Saturday afternoons at Everett Memorial Stadium.

Everett head coach John DiBiaso calls Ferri "the most complete player we’ve ever had." BC defensive back Manny Asprilla, an ESPN Boston Mr. Football finalist at Everett in 2010, fondly recalls hearing those stories of Ferri even before he first moved to Everett as an eighth-grader, then rummaging through old YouTubes to see if he was as good as the mythology suggested.

Oh, he sure was.

"He flew," Asprilla said. "I wanted to be like that. I wanted to be able to go untouched through holes. I just wanted to be like that."

Prized and Proud

In the city of Everett, a working-class suburb just across the Mystic River from the Boston neighborhood of Charlestown, football has forever been king. Its rich history is a century old, producing national champions at the turn of the 20th century and sending a handful of players to the NFL, including legendary former Cincinnati Bengals tight end Dan Ross. After some lean years, the Crimson Tide program has experienced a volcanic resurgence over the last two decades under DiBiaso, winning 20 straight Greater Boston League titles and 10 MIAA Super Bowl titles since 1997.

That late-90’s run with Ferri has kicked off a decade-long run in Everett in which the Tide are now annually sending defensive backs off to Division 1 FBS schools.

Outside of the Everett sphere, Ferri is generally known best for being the only player in Big East history to win both Offensive and Defensive Player of the Week in the same week, after a memorable 2004 victory over Boston College in which he recorded a pick-six at safety then scored two rushing touchdowns in taking over for the injured Damien Rhodes.

[+] EnlargeLukas Denis
Brendan Hall/ESPNBostonBoston College commit Lukas Denis is the latest in a long tradition of dominant Everett defensive backs that goes back two decades.
Addazio helped recruit Diamond Ferri to Syracuse, along with then-defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro, but took off for Notre Dame before Ferri arrived on campus.

"Tough program, there’s toughness there. There’s a skill level, and then there’s toughness, and Diamond was one of those guys," Addazio said. "He was a tough guy and he always had a smile on his face. He had a good look about him, that look in his eyes, that you could tell that he loved football."

Fifteen years after his run at Everett, winning two Division 1 Super Bowls, Ferri’s eyes now looked across the field as the Tide warmed up for a preseason scrimmage in Lynn, volunteering his time as an assistant coach for players who first heard his story years ago.

"When you look at Everett, and Everett football in particular, there’s major history," Ferri said. "Everett has changed multiculturally in the last 10 to 20 years. Before it was all Irish and Italian, and now it’s all Haitian, Puerto Rico and Brazil, just a lot of kids from other countries. And I think they just see all the kids go and they follow."

True, a lot has changed in Everett over the last 20 years -- a 2010 U.S. Census estimated one-third of the city’s residents are now foreign-born, nearly a 200-percent increase from 1990 -- but the football culture has remained the lifeblood. And the kids, they certainly follow.

Before Asprilla was running wild in BC’s secondary, he was watching former Eagle Isaac Johnson lead the Tide to back-to-back Super Bowl titles in 2006-07.

Before Nerlens Noel was an NBA lottery pick, he was a scrawny 6-foot-9 freshman idling on the Tide sidelines, watching his brothers Jim (BC) and Rodman (NC State) hover the secondary before moving on to ACC schools.

From the first wave of Everett stars under DiBiaso -- from Omar Easy to Ferri and Frank Nuzzo -- to the present day, where the Tide now turn to Boston College-bound cornerback Lukas Denis, athleticism has never been lacking. But over the last decade or so, more and more colleges have begun flocking to Everett to check out their defensive backs -- and more often than not, they have liked their returns.

One month before National Letter of Intent Signing Day in 2013, a chance encounter at a Walter Camp Award dinner in Connecticut led Wisconsin defensive backs coach Bill Busch to lightly-recruited Everett athlete Jakarrie Washington, who had no scholarship offers but clocked sub-4.5 speed.

"I know this, I sure as heck would love to come back -- I'm sure impressed," Busch told in February 2013, after signing Washington to the Badgers’ recruiting class. "There are kids in the city that are tough as heck."

True to his word, he came back, signing safety Lubern Figaro to the Badgers’ 2014 class last February. And just like Washington, Figaro got on the field as a true freshman. He made his first start in the Badgers’ first game of the season; headed into this weekend’s Big Ten Championship, Figaro has made five starts, recording 19 tackles, a forced fumble and an interception.

When Denis arrives in Chestnut Hill next fall, he’ll be Boston College’s fourth defensive back recruit from Everett since 2008. But what was once primarily a pipeline for northeastern colleges now fields inquiries from FBS schools all over, from Gainesville, Fla. down to Lubbock, Texas, all the way up to Pullman, Wash.

"Some of us defensive backs weren’t the biggest but we were all fast," Asprilla said. "But just being in the right place at the right time and flying around on the field is what distinguishes us from other defensive backs.

"I feel like we’re not the best backs in the world -- I’m not trying to take it away from anybody if they’re good -- but the fact that we can go from one side of the field to the other without thinking about ‘oh I’m tired’ or ‘I don’t feel like running because it’s not my play to be made’ is what I think distinguishes us from everybody else."

A Full Court Press

The defensive backs in Everett over the years have come in all shapes and sizes. Some are long, some are compact, others are just flat-out burners.

But here’s another common thread between all of the defensive backs over the years: Most, if not all, suited up for DiBiaso’s varsity basketball squads during the winter time.

[+] EnlargeManny Asprilla
Brendan Hall, ESPNBoston.comBoston College cornerback Manny Asprilla idolized former greats Isaac Johnson and Diamond Ferri growing up in Everett.
DiBiaso has had his fair share of success on the hardwood, sending a handful of players to Division 1 schools, reaching a Division 1 state final, and distinguishing himself as the only coach in state history to win over 400 basketball games and 250 football games.

In most years, DiBiaso will typically run variations of a diamond-and-one full court press, with lots of trapping and pinning the opposition along the sidelines. In a sport where power forwards are routinely making transitions from the hardwood to the Pro Bowl, DiBiaso’s unique approach to high school hoops seems to pay off on the gridiron.

"The agility you get from playing basketball by the work of having to cover people, you would never get on your own without doing covering drills as a football player," DiBiaso said. "I wish more kids would [play both sports] because it’s really helped with our younger guys coming up.

"Jakarrie was a great defender, and so was Manny and Isaac. Jimmy [Noel] would cover the high scorer. They were all good defenders, and I think they learned that mentality from basketball. They were all pretty good defenders in basketball, and they carried it over to football. I wish I could say there’s a secret formula in the water, but there’s not. I think a lot of your great basketball players in this state don’t play football, but I think a lot more would get scholarships if they did."

At Everett, basketball defense isn’t as simple as just a 2-3 zone or a man-to-man. DiBiaso likes his defenses triangular, and will often stick his best defensive back on an opponent’s best scorer, harassing the player up and down the floor.

"You have to be able to see the pick from your peripheral and be able to go over it or under it, judging on how the pick is coming on you," Asprilla said. "I didn’t really start playing defensive back in high school until senior year, until I got the [BC] offer. And now that I think about it, [basketball] helped. When you have a receiver that runs a drive route under the linebackers you have to sort your way through it. When I do it on the field, I have no fear going through that. So that helped, when I would see a pick coming to be set on me to help get their best man open, and I’d have to work around it."

Asprilla was part of one of Everett’s more high-profile teams in recent years, the 2008-09 squad that reached the Division 1 North semfinals and featured a 14-year-old Nerlens Noel. As one of the Tide’s premier defensive backs, Asprilla often played a trapper role in DiBiaso’s press.

"When you’re playing the trap, you can’t be lazy," Asprilla said. "When I say lazy, I mean being slow with your feet. When you’re out on the field, and say you’re breaking on a slant, you have to be able to keep your feet hot and be able to break on a straight line from here to there and meet him where he’s going, not where he is at the moment."

Denis, who lives about a four-minute walk from Everett Memorial Stadium, is one of the few to break canon. He doesn’t play a winter sport, saying bluntly, "Basketball is a wild sport, and it’s not like I was good at it, so why waste time?"

Each morning this offseason, he says, Denis would get up at four o’clock and find a crease in the fence surrounding the stadium, which is compacted tightly into a residential neighborhood off of Revere Beach Parkway. There, he would run stadium steps and sometimes work on 1-on-1 coverage drills when friends joined.

Literally, Denis was asked by a reporter, you’re going through someone’s backyard to hop a fence and run stadium steps at four in the morning?

"It’s worth it," Denis smiled.

One Big Brotherhood

The sense of fraternity is strong in Everett. Just as Ferri has come back to the sidelines, or how Easy left a gig with his alma mater Penn State two years ago to become a Vice Principal at Everett, few are ever truly far away.

"Competition is what we passed on. You wanted to be better than the man that was ahead of you," Asprilla said. "You didn’t want to be known as, ‘This guy was the best and you were close enough.’ You wanted to be the next guy that they would say, ‘Man, we need one of him’."

Denis still hears from graduated former teammates of his, who watch Everett games on Hudl and give him pointers. When he has Friday nights off next year at BC, Denis says he plans on making his way to see the Tide in action, watching the next generation come through.

Saturday afternoon at Gillette Stadium, the Tide will face off with rival Xaverian Brothers High for the MIAA Division 1 State Championship, gunning for a fourth MIAA title in five seasons and the 11th of DiBiaso’s tenure. They have come roaring back this fall after a disappointing end to 2013, when they fell to Central Catholic on their own home turf in the Division 1 North final.

Lots went wrong on that day, but the sight of Central receiver Cody Demers slicing in front of Figaro for the winning touchdown in the waning minutes is not soon forgotten. Even from all the way in Madison, Wisc., getting ready to play for a Big Ten Championship this weekend, Figaro has still found time to remind Denis how it ended.

"Oh God, he’ll never forget that moment," Denis said of Figaro. "He talks about it all the time. He says, ‘Don’t let that be you’."

Denis has turned in a dominant campaign this fall as the undisputed leader of the Tide on both sides of the ball, sometimes owning the game in all three phases for stretches. Last month, Denis was named a finalist for ESPN Boston’s prestigious "Mr. Football" award, given to the best overall player in Massachusetts. Another five-tool performance at Gillette could give him the edge when the award is announced next week.

Out on the turf at Gillette on Tuesday morning, greeting the media as part of the annual MIAA State Championship Breakfast activities, Denis stood out loudly from the crowd, donning a bright yellow cardigan in a sea of letterman jackets.

"When you can’t do it, you still have to do it," Denis said as he talked about his mindset going into Saturday. "There’s no other option. After the game, you’ll thank yourself."

Listening closely, you get the feeling there’s more than hardware on the line this weekend.

Hoophall: Tilton (N.H.) 71, Vermont Academy 67

January, 20, 2013
SPRINGFIELD, Mass.-- Gone are Nerlens Noel, Georges Niang, Dominique Bull, and Goodluck Okonoboth, but there is still talent on this year’s Tilton team.

It showed Sunday at the Hoophall Classic when the Rams held on to beat Vermont Academy, 71-67, in a NEPSAC AA contest for its second victory in as many days.

Facing a noticeable size disadvantage, Tilton (11-3) was forced to play a game primarily on the perimeter. That made life difficult early on because while it was getting open looks, the shots just weren’t falling.

Wayne Selden, a Kansas commit, was 3-of-9 from the field in the first half for just 7 points. His teammate, Chester Victor, was able to pick up the slack for the team, finishing the half with 11 points, establishing himself as a jump shooting threat and a nice complement to the other Tilton wing players.

Tilton lead 28-27 at the half. Those shots the team was missing early on started to fall in the second, and it started to pull ahead, leading by as much as 15 in the second half.

“I thought it was a very well-played game,” Tilton coach Marcus O’Neil said. “I thought Jesse [Bopp, Vermont Academy coach] had his team very well-prepared for us. We both like to play a similar tempo, up-and-down. I think it makes for a fun game to watch, he’s got some very talented and accomplished players. I thought it was a good game, I’m glad we were able to come out and I thought with the open floor, some of the guys really showed what they can do.”

Midway through the second, Vermont (7-6) started utilizing a fullcourt press, which caught Tilton off-guard. In what started as disciplined ball movement turned into rushed offensive possessions, leading to too long outlet passes and other turnovers.

“We didn’t really adjust to it well,” Selden said. “We didn’t really see it coming. We didn’t have the right positioning. We’re really guard-heavy, so anybody can be anywhere and we were just running around.”

Selden and Victor finished with 24 and 26 points respectively, thanks in large part to their outside shooting. Initially, Vermont was in man-to-man defense, but switched to a 1-3-1 as the game went on, trying to utilize its length to cover as much of the court as possible.

Terance Mann had a strong first half for the Rams, going 4-for-7 from the field, but was 1-for-10 in the second and finished with 11 points. The 6-foot-5 sophomore still has room to grow into his long frame. His perimeter-based game complements Selden and Victor well, giving the team more than one scoring weapon from the outside. When Selden graduates this year, Mann feels he has the potential to fill the big shoes as a focal point of the Tilton offense.

“I think I have the potential to do that,” he said “When I’m rolling, I’m really good at going to the basket and finishing with both hands. I need to work on my shot and my handle, but usually when my shot’s falling, I’m shooting. When he leaves, it’s going to be tough, but I think I can take that role.”

--- With this being such a young Tilton team, Selden knew he had to take on more of a leadership role this season. Last year, playing with the likes of Nerlens Noel and Georges Niang, he could rely on them to be the voices both on and off the court while he played his game. This year, things are different for the Kansas commit.

“Every game is a battle,” he said. “I have to be a leader. We have a young group of guys that have to fight hard, so that’s all I ask for.”

As all great leaders do, they can lead just by example and with their actions as they do with words.

“I tend to be on the hyperactive side,” Victor said. “With Wayne Selden, he’s so serious on and off the court. He’s real calm before a game, but then when we get on the court he’s serious, telling people to go hard. Every day in practice, we break and we say “Go hard.” Playing alongside him, you can’t help but get better.”

--- Sunday was an important game for Chester Victor. Aside from scoring 26 points, the postgraduate senior was able to display his talents on a big stage in front of many college coaches.

He came to Tilton this year after going to school in LaPlace, Louisiana, a small town 10 minutes outside of New Orleans. The 6-foot-1 guard made the jump to Tilton to get more exposure to a higher level of basketball, which he thought the NEPSAC could do for him.

“The recruiting in Louisiana is not as good as it is up here,” he said after the game. “I went four years without getting recruited. I traveled up here with my cousin Lucas and he was supposed to end up coming here, but I think God saw fit for me to come here, so that’s how I ended up at Tilton.”

This year was as good a year as any for him to make the jump to the northeast. Tilton is notorious for having a dominant presence inside, from Alex Oriakhi (now playing at Missouri) to Nerlens Noel (now at Kentucky). This season, the Rams lack depth in the post, and now have to play a more guard-heavy lineup. It did that Sunday, occasionally forcing Wayne Selden to play the power forward position instead of his usual spot at guard and on the wing.

That strategy works because its guards are all capable of scoring off the dribble or shooting from the outside, so they compliment each other’s game well.

“Every year we’ve had things we’ve done well, and not done well,” O’Neil said. “It is a major deficiency in basketball when you don’t have a lot of size. We try to find a way on the court to compensate for that. It is nice to have those guys that can control the paint, block shots, score in the post, so when you don’t have as much of that, you find another way to play. It’s not always easy as a coach to be flexible, but you change what you do according to the personnel. If we don’t do that this year, if I’m too rigid, we’re not going to give ourselves the best chance to be successful.”

With four of last year’s starting five either graduated or transferred, Victor was unsure how that would effect the team and its play coming into the season.

“Last year, I had the privilege of watching them play online and I thought they played slow,” he said. “Once Nerlens left, and Niang, and Dominique Bull, and we found out Goodluck transferred, I wondered if Coach was going to be able to transition from playing slow to playing fast. I found out, coming in the first day, he said that was the only way he was going to play.”

Noel, Dunn named ESPNHS All-Americans

April, 18, 2012
ESPNHS unveiled its All-American basketball team for the 2011-12 season today, and making the list is Tilton (N.H.) center Nerlens Noel and New London (Conn.) point guard Kris Dunn.

The 6-foot-10 Noel, who last week announced his commitment to Kentucky on ESPNU, was named to the First Team, alongside Bishop Gorman (Nev.) swingman Shabazz Muhammad, St. Anthony (N.J.) forward Kyle Anderson, Flower Mound Marcus (Texas) guard Marcus Smart, and Simeon (Ill.) forward Jabari Parker. Dunn, a Providence signee and the nation's No. 2 overall point guard, was named to the Fourth Team. That adds to what was a dedicated career at New London -- a state championship, four All-State selections, a McDonald's All-American selection, Gatorade Player of the Year, and over 2,000 career points.

You can view the entire team by clicking here. Below is what ESPNHS' panel had to say about its selections of Noel and Dunn:

C -- Nerlens Noel, Tilton School (Tilton, N.H.) 6-11 Sr.
The nation's best shot-blocker impacted the game on the defensive end more than any player in the country. Noel averaged 12 points, 10 rebounds and five blocked shots for the New England Preparatory Schools Athletic Council Class AA runner-up. With his timing and ability to stay out of foul trouble, many national scouts think the Kentucky recruit is the best long-term prospect in this group.

G -- Kris Dunn, New London (New London, Conn.) 6-3 Sr.
As a senior, the Providence recruit was a scoring machine for the 23-3 team with a 31.4 per game average. He also had norms of 12 rebounds, five assists and four steals a game while shooting 60 percent on 2-point goals. In one game versus Stonington, he had 32 points, 14 rebounds, 11 assists and 10 steals. Dunn, a three-time all-state selection, is the first elite team selection from Connecticut since former NBA forward Charles Smith of Warren Harding (Bridgeport, Conn.) in 1984 and earned numerous end-of-season honors: McDonald's All-American, Gatorade State Player of the Year and media state player of the year.

Locals playing in Jordan Brand Classic

April, 13, 2012
A total of five players either from the New England region or playing at a New England school will be participating in tomorrow night's Jordan Brand Classic high school all-star game, in Charlotte, N.C. ESPN's Paul Biancardi breaks down players to watch for the game, and mentions several locals, today on ESPN's Basketball Recruiting section:

Kris Dunn (New London, Conn./New London)
PG, 6-3, 180 pounds
College: Providence
He possesses the blow-by speed and quickness with the basketball that's necessary to score at the highest level. Dunn is a high-level athlete who can change directions on a dime in the open floor, break the ankles of a defender with a crossover, get into the lane at will and finish drives at the rim. Once he adds a jump shot, he will be special.

Nerlens Noel (Everett, Mass./Tilton School)
C, 6-10, 215 pounds
College: Kentucky
He has established himself as the best shot-blocker in high school and emerged as the top player in the nation without ever worrying about his numbers on the offensive end. The future Wildcat can score the ball inside by using a jump hook or driving from the foul line, but his real value comes from protecting the rim.

Kaleb Tarczewski (Claremont, N.H./St. Mark's)
C, 7-0, 240 pounds
College: Arizona
It's rare to find a big man, like Tarczewski, who is willing to run the floor and has good hands. He works hard to gain deep, low-post position whenever possible, understands the value of screening to free up his teammates and goes after missed shots on both ends. Tarczewski continues to work hard on improving his game and it shows.

Steven Adams (New Zealand/Notre Dame Prep)
C, 6-10, 235 pounds
College: Pittsburgh
Adams is the most physically-imposing player in the game thanks to his unique combination of strength and athleticism. He will attack the rim and score with his excellent mobility, huge hands and soft touch inside 15 feet. Defensively, he is very difficult to score over and Noel has said he is the hardest guy he's ever tried to score on.

Nerlens Noel chooses Kentucky

April, 11, 2012

Just moments ago, Tilton (N.H.) center and Everett native Nerlens Noel committed to the University of Kentucky, in a live special at ESPN's Charlotte studios.

Noel, a 6-foot-10 shot swatter and the nation's No. 1 overall player, chose the Wildcats over Georgetown and Syracuse.

He revealed his decision on national television in an unusual yet playful manner, turning around in his chair to reveal the school's logo shaved into the back of his head. He then lifted up a No. 5 away Kentucky jersey.

"I just thought it was the best fit for me personally," Noel said. "I talked to my mom and she liked it as well. She liked all three schools, but when it came down to it, she liked Kentucky, Coach Orlando [Antigua], Coach Cal [John Calipari]. I see what they did with Anthony Davis, she thought it was the best fit for me, and I did too."

Noel talks upcoming decision on schools

April, 4, 2012
Tilton (N.H.) senior center Nerlens Noel, the nation's No. 1 overall player, checks in with his latest blog entry today on ESPNHS' boys basketball section, which you can read here.

Following last weekend's All-American Championship high school all-star game in New Orleans, Noel told reporters that he would make his decision for college on April 11, choosing between Kentucky, Syracuse and Georgetown. Bishop Gorman (Nev.) senior forward Shabazz Muhammad, the nation's No. 2 overall player, will also be making his decision at the same time.

Noel discusses the three finalists for his services, and bats down the rumors circulating that Kentucky is the favorite to land both him and Muhammad:

OK, so by now I assume most of you guys know that I cut my list to Kentucky, Georgetown and Syracuse a few weeks back. I just thought it was time to get it down to the schools that I was really looking at the hardest.

Kentucky had the big win Monday night and I had a good time watching that game. I was really liking how Anthony Davis continued to be effective even without scoring the ball. I know how it feels to not be able to get it going on the offensive end at times and that makes you just want to go even harder defensively. I loved that he got Most Outstanding Player, too.

Just seeing him have all the success that he’s had this year definitely makes me think a lot about what I could be doing there. That’s really appealing to me.

His IQ on the court is crazy. I talked to him a lot while I was down there and he told me all about how much better he’d gotten since he got there. He told me that I’d have to be ready when I got there because it was going to be a lot of hard work.

I’d definitely say it makes me think about Kentucky more, and with them winning with all of those freshmen was very attractive. Just seeing that it doesn’t matter how young you are, you can win a national title.

I talked to (Kentucky assistant) coach Orlando (Antigua) after they won and he was really happy, of course. He said that all he could think about was me being a part of something like that next season.

I wouldn’t say that all of that stuff gives Kentucky an advantage though. It’s just something I think about a lot.

With Syracuse, they’ve been on me the longest of the three schools on my list. That factors in heavy with me. That’s big for me. With Georgetown, I would've been crazy not to really give them a look with all the history they’ve had with big men and the development that I could get there.

This is going to be a hard decision y’all.

I’ve decided to announce my decision a week from today on ESPN so I’ve got a lot of thinking to do between now and then. And I’ve heard the rumors about me making a decision already. That’s not true. Rumors are rumors, what can you do, but just know that I'm far from a decision no matter what you hear.

Like I always say, don’t believe things you don’t read from me right here in my blog. I definitely haven’t made up my mind yet.

Me and Shabazz Muhammad are deciding at the same time on ESPN so that should be pretty cool. It’s definitely just a coincidence because me and Shabazz have never even talked about schools or anything like that.

I would love to play with him in college though, but we’ve never talked about that and he’s got to do what’s best for him like I’ve got to do what’s best for me.

I will say that one of the biggest factors in my decision will be who will be there on the team when I get there because my No. 1 goal is to win a national title.

Nerlens Noel narrows list of schools to three

March, 19, 2012
ESPN's Dave Telep checks in today with Tilton (N.H.) senior center Nerlens Noel, who recently eliminated North Carolina from his list of suitors and is down to Georgetown, Syracuse and Kentucky.

The entry can be found here on ESPN's Basketball Recruiting Blog. Here is an excerpt:

“I cut it a little bit today,” Noel said Sunday night. “I took North Carolina off. I didn’t want to delay the process.”

A potential March 19 visit to UNC isn’t happening. While Georgetown, Syracuse and Kentucky –- Noel’s final three –- have been with him a long time, the Tar Heels tried to make a run at him following his reclassification. Turns out it was too late. Connecticut was also trimmed from the final list.

“I think I’m getting close,” Noel said. “I think after my mom talks to coaches and Kentucky does an in-home visit. Then Syracuse is on Wednesday and my mom already met with Georgetown when she went with me on my visit.”

Each of the three remaining schools has a different angle with which to approach the shot-swatter. The Wildcats, well, they could be four games away from replacing probably No. 1 NBA Draft pick Anthony Davis.

“I don’t like to think like I’m replacing somebody,” Noel said. “I want to go in there and play my own game. I don’t want to replace him and I know we’re similar but I want to go in there and do my own thing.

“Kentucky, when I was there they showed me how good of a job they do with their players and that maybe in 1-2 years in college I could be a professional.”

Then there’s Syracuse. Noel’s always been fond of the Orange. “Syracuse has a great tradition. Whenever I go there it’s a family thing and I like (Jim) Boeheim and (Mike) Hopkins a lot. Playing with Mike Carter-Williams again would be real good. They do a great job of explaining the place.”

The Hoyas' past is not easily lost on Noel. Some of the game's great shot-blockers roamed the lane under the watchful eye of two generations of Thompsons. From Patrick Ewing all the way through Roy Hibbert, the Hoyas have always loved having an anchor in the middle.

“Georgetown really showed me what they’re about. I watched video about how they utilized their big men and I can pass the ball and get assists in that system.”

Noel, Tarczewski, McGary named to Team USA

March, 6, 2012
USA Basketball today named the roster for the 2012 USA Junior National Select Team, which will take on the World Select Team in the 2012 Nike Hoop Summit, April 7 at the Rose Garden in Portland, Ore.

The Nike Hoop Summit is the country's premier annual basketball game for high-school boys and features America's top seniors playing against a World Team comprised of international players who are 19-years-old or younger.

Everett native and Tilton (N.H.) senior Nerlens Noel, the nation's No. 1 overall player, was named to the team, as was St. Mark's 7-foot center and Claremont, N.H. native Kaleb Tarczewski. Brewster Academy (N.H.) big man Mitch McGary, an Indiana native, was also named to the team.

The three will be joined by Kyle Anderson (St. Anthony H.S./North Bergen, N.J.); Archie Goodwin (Sylvan Hills H.S./Little Rock, Ark.); Gary Harris (Hamilton Southeastern H.S./Fishers, Ind.); Shabazz Muhammad (Bishop Gorman H.S./Las Vegas, Nev.); Marcus Paige (Linn-Mar H.S./Marion, Iowa); Tony Parker (Miller Grove H.S./Lithonia, Ga.); and Rasheed Sulaimon (Strake Jesuit College Prep/Houston, Texas).

Finkelstein's top NEPSAC tourney performers

March, 5, 2012
ESPN's Adam Finkelstein recaps the top performances from the NEPSAC Boys Basketball Tournament's Class A, AA, and AAA Finals, last weekend at Endicott College.

You can view the entire entry here on ESPN's Basketball Recruiting Section. Here's the highlights:

Standout prospects
Nik Stauskas (Mississauga, Ontario/St. Mark’s)
2012, SF, 6-6, 205
College: Michigan
Stauskas finished with 19 points but his impact on the game far exceeded that total, as he not only scored the ball in different ways but also facilitated for others in both pick and roll as well as drive-and-kick action. While the complete versatility of Stauskas’ offensive repertoire was on full display, the most impressive part of his performance was that innate star quality that allowed him to make big play after big play at the most pivotal moments of the game.

Nerlens Noel (Everett, Mass./Tilton)
2012, C, 6-10, 215
Noel’s biggest contributions once again came on the defensive end, where he not only anchored the team with his shot-blocking presence but also showed his ability to defend a dominant low-post player as he utilized his quickness and agility to prevent Kaleb Tarczewski (Claremont, N.H./St. Mark’s) from being able to establish any type of seals on the low post. Offensively, his 10 points included one incredible alley-oop finish which he caught literally above the box, in addition to a number of high-level passes.

Chris McCullough (New York, N.Y./Salisbury)
2014, PF, 6-9, 210
McCullough scored a game-high 26 points in the class A final, continuing to show his potentially lethal combination of length, athleticism and skill. McCullough brought good energy throughout the game, running the floor and being active on the offensive glass, while continuing to show a consistently expanding offensive repertoire. He was a consistent threat at the 3-point line, turned the corner in big-to-big ball screen action, and then iced the game with great poise at the free throw line.

Surprise performer
Spike Albrecht (Crown Point, Ind./Northfield Mount Hermon)
2012, PG, 6-1, 180
Albrecht showed great resiliency and endurance, playing all 40 minutes of an incredibly hard fought AAA final and serving as the team’s primary ballhandler from start to finish. He was at his best down the stretch, knocking down a deep 3-pointer and two clutch free throws in the game’s final 30 seconds. Albrecht is a cerebral point guard who is super crafty inside and is especially adept at keeping his dribble.

Keep an eye on
Rodney Sanders (Linden, N.J./St. Thomas More)
2012, SG, 6-4, 185
Sanders' Division I stock has consistently grown over the last couple of months and it got another boost on Sunday. The big southpaw guard showed an ability to make shots in bunches from behind the 3-point line, which provides only added value for a utility guard who can impact the game by defending multiple perimeter positions, playing with a very high motor and showing general versatility on the offensive end.

NEPSAC: St. Mark's 59, Tilton (N.H.) 53

March, 4, 2012
BEVERLY, Mass. -- Nik Stauskas wrapped his arms around Eli Lubick, as his St. Mark's teammate approached the free throw line to shoot the game-clinching free throws.

It was poetic in a way: the son of St. Mark’s coach David Lubick had the opportunity to put an exclamation point on the season and secure the NEPSAC Class AA Championship that had eluded this senior class the last two seasons.

His older brother Nate, now a starting forward at Georgetown, watched in the right corner, hoping his brother would have the opportunity to feel the championship feeling he had when he won the same title at St. Mark’s years ago.

Eli hit them both. The clock hit zero, and the whole team rejoiced at center court, celebrating the Lions’ 59-53 victory over the Tilton Rams. It was an unknown feeling for Tilton, which had previously won four straight NEPSAC championships -- three straight Class B titles from 2008-10, and last year's Class AA title against these same Lions.

“This is so crazy for us, because after last year’s loss to them, for like, a year exactly to this day, we’ve been thinking about this rematch against Tilton,” said Stauskas, who finished with 19 points and has signed with Michigan for next season. “There’s no better feeling in the world than just working hard and achieving your goals.”

St. Mark’s (26-1) jumped out to an early lead behind the shooting of players like Jaymie Spears (eight points, four steals), Aaron Falzon (eight points, five rebounds), and Lubick (12 points).

While Stauskas and Arizona-bound 7-footer Kaleb Tarczewski get their share of publicity, and rightfully so, it was the contributions of the players around them that allowed them to end their high school careers on such a high note.

“Those are all big-time players,” said Stauskas. “A guy like Jaymie has been working so hard this year and really stepped up big for us today. Eric Green (four points, five rebounds) stepped up big, Aaron is only a freshman so he’s definitely going to have some big years ahead of him.”

As the crowd thinned outside the Endicott College gymnasium, players trickled out of the locker room and into the lobby to board their respective buses back to their campuses. The Tilton (27-5) players were gone just moments after Lubick entered the St. Mark’s locker room.

Months from now, the St. Mark’s starting five will be at different colleges around the country beginning a new chapter in their lives. Who knows where their basketball careers will take them. No matter, they will always be able to look back and know they went out a champion.

Neutralizing Nerlens: St. Mark’s accomplished what so many teams want to do when playing Tilton: keeping the ball away from Nerlens Noel on offense. The nation's No. 1 overall senior can single-handedly change a game with his defense. St. Mark’s has it’s own big man in Kaleb Tarczewski, the No. 5 overall player in the Class of 2012.

When looking at the scorebook and seeing Tarczewski’s eight points and nine rebounds, one can think it was because Noel neutralized him. It had more to do with Lubick’s decision to play his offense out on the perimeter.

The team took advantage, hitting 10 three-pointers. Twelve of Stauskas’ 19 points came from behind the 3-point line.

“We know Nerlens and Goodluck (Okonoboh) are big-time shot blockers,” he said. “Our main goal today was to get a lot of drive-and-kicks for threes. We have a lot of guys that can shoot the ball. Our real key was to get into the key as far as we could and kick it right back out for open three’s.”

Noel’s shot-blocking is so feared that in one possession in the first half, Eric Green caught an outlet pass and saw Noel separating him from the basket. Rather than going at the 6-foot-11 center and risk getting his shot blocked, Green circled back to the perimeter and waited for his teammates to set up the offense.

“We wanted to not challenge them at their strength, which is the rim,” said David Lubick. “We thought if Kaleb could challenge Nerlens and get into his body and get him into foul trouble, that’s great. He used a couple of nice up-fakes and stuff like that, but we didn’t want the rest of our guys attacking the basket. Even an athletic guy like Eric Green or Nik Stauskas who can attack the basket, we didn’t want them to do it because we were afraid we’d get our shots blocked, then they’d go off to the races the other way.”

“Our focus was on making plays on the perimeter and getting into the paint in order to find somebody,” he added. “Consequently, they had to take Goodluck out of the game and adjust to us. If we had gotten behind, they wouldn’t have had to do that. Our guys doing what the gameplan dictated allowed us to dictate the terms on personnel.”

Loss of Selden hurt: Tilton appeared to struggle at times without its starting point guard Wayne Selden. The Boston resident and one of the nation's top sophomore players in the country, has been sidelined for weeks with an ankle injury. He had no choice but to watch the game from the bench in street clothes holding crutches.

“Him playing definitely makes a big difference for them,” said Stauskas. “We wish he could have played because it’s obviously not the same without him, but injuries happen. You just have to deal with them, so it is what it is. He’s probably one of the guys that creates most off the dribble for them, so he’s definitely a huge difference-maker.

"Georges Niang played a huge game for them (19 points, six rebounds) so he definitely stepped up. Everyone else was doing their normal job. They’re a heck of a team, so we feel blessed just to beat them.”

Warm surprise: Lubick received a nice surprise just moments before tipoff. As he was standing on the sideline during team warmups, he turned around and was noticeably taken aback when he saw his son Nate, a sophomore at Georgetown, standing their to greet him.

He was not expecting him to be there, since he had played against Marquette the previous night, but he flew up to surprise his dad and cheer him on during the important game.

“That was a huge surprise for me,” he said. “I was a little steamed and perturbed that my wife didn’t show up early and on time. I was thinking, ‘Where is she?’ We’ve been through this together for a long time, and then I figured out why she was late: she was picking up Nate. It was great, just unbelievable.”

Recruiting updates on local prep school stars

February, 29, 2012
ESPN Recruiting Nation has updates on the nation's top uncommitted seniors. Locally that includes a number of players from prep schools around New England: Tilton (N.H.) center Nerlens Noel, Brewster Academy (N.H.) wing Jakarr Sampson, Bridgton Academy (Maine) forward Markus Crider, and Notre Dame Prep's Sam Cassell Jr.

The entire list can be found here. Below is the latest recruiting update on the locals:

Nerlens Noel, C
Everett, Mass./The Tilton School
Player rank: 1 | Position rank: 1 | Grade: 98 | Stars: 5
Height: 6-10 | Weight: 215 pounds | Evaluation
Recruiting update: While Noel continues the process of formally reclassifying back to his original class, he has begun to take unofficial visits. First up was a quick trip to Providence alongside future Friars Kris Dunn and Ricardo Ledo. Next up was a visit to Syracuse to check on old friend and AAU teammate Michael Carter-Williams. Most recently, Noel visited Kentucky to learn more about becoming Anthony Davis' replacement. Florida, Georgetown, North Carolina and maybe Connecticut are expected to also get visits in the coming weeks but Syracuse and Kentucky have to be considered the favorites right now.

Jakarr Sampson, SF
Akron, Ohio/Brewster Academy
Player rank: POST | Stars: 4
Height: 6-8 | Weight: 200 pounds
Recruiting update: Sampson is a long, athletic forward who has visited Baylor, Pitt and most recently Kansas this past weekend. His recruitment is still wide open.

Sam Cassell Jr., SG
Baltimore, Md./Notre Dame Prep
Player rank: POST | Stars: 3
Height: 6-4 | Weight: 170 pounds | Evaluation
Recruiting update: Cassell took his only official visit thus far to Maryland back in October and has since decided to play out the rest of his senior season before making any decisions. Florida State and South Florida have been on him as long as anyone while Connecticut jumped into the picture back in late January and hosted him for an unofficial visit last weekend for their matchup against Syracuse. Even still, the plan remains to play out the rest of the prep season and see what new schools come along before using his official visits in the spring. The latest places to express interest have been Purdue and Villanova.

Markus Crider, SF
Huber Heights, Ohio/Bridgton Academy
Player rank: POST | Stars: 3
Height: 6-5 | Weight: 195 pounds
Recruiting update: With his postgraduate season now in its final week, you would think Crider's recruitment would be starting to wind down, but really that isn't the case at all. He has yet to take any of his visits and is still very much open. At the end of the day he's going to have to decide between levels and fit with places such as St. Bonaventure and Iona recruiting him the hardest, others such as George Mason and Dayton are definitely involved, and Memphis, Clemson, Cincinnati and Xavier are doing enough to keep him warm.

Nerlens Noel sheds some light on his situation

February, 20, 2012
Tilton (N.H.) center and Everett native Nerlens Noel sheds light on some of the recent developments in his world today in his diary on Among other things, the nation's No. 1 overall senior created some confusion when he began to take visits this month.

Earlier this month, Noel told ESPN's Dave Telep that he was reclassifying to the Class of 2012, and would begin to take official visits. On Friday, however, the Boston Herald reported that Noel had yet to be granted his request to re-classify from the Class of 2013, meaning his two visits this month -- Syracuse on Feb. 10, and Kentucky last weekend -- were technically unofficial visits.

Noel clarifies the matter:

I’ve taken two visits since I reclassified, first to Syracuse and I’m actually just getting back from Kentucky now. Both of the visits had to be unofficial because I have to get a lot of paperwork processed at my school before everything’s final, so until that happens all of my visits have to be unofficial. I think everything will be final by around early March.

Noel talks about the joys he had on his visits to both Syracuse and Kentucky, and talks about how much steam has picked up in his recruiting since he made his move to 2012. That includes some conversation with legendary Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski:

I’ve had a few schools call me more since the news broke about me reclassifying. I actually talked to coach Mike Krzyzewski the day after my first blog. That was pretty cool just talking to him. I like Coach K a lot. He was telling me about the situation down there for next year.

I talked to him twice after that, but I ended up telling them that I wasn’t interested in Duke. I like Coach K, but I just didn’t have any interest in them.

Noel also declares where he will be visiting next:

I’m excited about my next few visits to Florida, North Carolina and Georgetown, but I don’t know what order those visits will be in and I don’t have any dates on those yet. I’ll definitely let you guys know, though.

I’m gonna visit Providence and UConn too because they’re so close to me. I’ve been hearing from all of the coaches from those schools for the most part.

Nerlens Noel visiting Kentucky this weekend

February, 16, 2012
Multiple news outlets have reported over the last day that Everett native and Tilton (N.H.) center Nerlens Noel will take an official visit to the University of Kentucky this weekend.

Earlier this month, the 6-foot-10 Everett native re-classified back to the Class of 2012, and is now ranked the nation's No. 1 overall senior. ESPN's Dave Telep reports that Noel recently passed through the NCAA Clearinghouse, meaning he is now eligible to take official visits.

Last weekend, Noel visited Syracuse. Telep has more on that visit, and this weekend's one, today on his blog on ESPN's Basketball Recruiting Section:

Last weekend, he was courtside for a Syracuse home game, and more than a few students were sporting their own version of Noel’s signature flattop.

“It was good,” said Noel, who is close friends with Orange SF Michael Carter-Williams. “The crowd was packed and mad loud. I enjoyed it a lot.”

You better believe that Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim is going to try to use the relationship between Noel and Carter-Williams to land the big man.

However, this weekend Kentucky coach John Calipari will make his own unique pitch to Noel, who will be making his official visit to Lexington. Why not take over for Anthony Davis and try to break his shot-blocking record?

The second-most frequent question I’ve gotten in the last week (the first being about Jeremy Lin) links Davis and Noel. People want to know who the better shot-blocker was in high school. If you can believe it, Noel owns the distinction.

As a senior, he has a longer résumé and a more menacing profile as a rejecter than Davis had at the same time. Having said that, Davis’ rookie season at Kentucky is historic, and the improvements he’s made are astronomical. It would be difficult for Noel, or Dwight Howard for that matter, to replicate Davis’ defensive season.

Florida, Georgetown, North Carolina, Providence and Connecticut also remain on Noel's list of schools. Some of them will receive official visits, others may get unofficial visits. With the college season winding down, Noel is tracking for an April decision, provided taking more visits remains the order of the day.

Nerlens Noel named Naismith Finalist

February, 14, 2012
The Atlanta Tipoff Club released the finalists for the Naismith Boys' High School Player of the Year award yesterday, and among the four finalists was Everett native and Tilton (N.H.) center Nerlens Noel.

The 6-foot-10 Noel -- who reclassified to the Class of 2012 last month and is now the nation's No. 1 overall player -- joined Bishop Gorman (Nev.) forward Shabazz Muhammad, Grace Prep (Texas) center Isaiah Austin and St. Anthony (N.J.) swingman Kyle Anderson among the finalists.

The winner will be recognized by the Atlanta Tipoff Club at its season-ending Naismith Awards Banquet March 22, at the Georgia International Convention Center in Atlanta.

“This was one of my goals,” Noel told ESPNHS' Jason Jordan. “It’s a great achievement to be recognized as a finalist. I thank God for this opportunity.”

Nerlens Noel reclassifying to Class of 2012

February, 1, 2012
ESPN's Dave Telep is reporting tonight that Tilton School big man and Everett native Nerlens Noel, previously the nation's No. 2 overall junior, will re-classify from the Class of 2013 to his original Class of 2012.

Noel transferred from Everett High to the Tilton, N.H. prep school over the summer of 2010, following his sophomore season with the Crimson Tide. But he re-classified to the Class of 2013, repeating his sophomore year.

More so, Noel will soon be taking college visits. Telep has more on the Basketball Recruiting Blog:

"I just thought over the season that I thought I was getting a higher level of competition and was working on my game," Noel said. "I reclassified because I was hurt but I feel like I'm ready to play at the next level."

Two weeks ago, Noel was the dominant big man at the HoopHall Classic. Though he'd been thinking about making the move since November, that event helped to push him toward the decision. "It kind of put me over the top but it was on my mind for a while," Noel said.

Noel and Jabari Parker (Chicago, Ill./Simeon) were head to head engaged in a battle for the top spot in the loaded 2013 class. There is reason to believe that Noel will slide past Shabazz Muhammad (Las Vegas, Nev./Bishop Gorman) and take over the No. 1 spot in the Class of 2012.

Next up for Noel is selecting a college. He has five visits and his first will be to Syracuse the weekend of Nov. 11. He’s been to Providence and Connecticut and may not need official visits to the local schools.

"I'm ready to do it. It's a short window of time to pick a school and that's a concern to get out there and visit and maintain all my schoolwork." In addition to Syracuse, UConn and Providence, Kentucky, Florida, Georgetown and North Carolina are on his list.

"I think I'm going to visit Kentucky, Florida, Georgetown and North Carolina," Noel said. "Some of the coaches gave me dates but I have a couple of big games on those days so they're not really planned yet."

Noel won't rush his decision but his recruiting will be conducted quickly and will culminate this spring. “There’s not really a timeframe for me to wrap it up. I just want to get in as many visits to these schools before signing day.”