CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The second Nerlens Noel spun around and showed the letters “UK” meticulously cut into the back of his head live on ESPNU Wednesday night, the lofty expectations were all over cyberspace before he could step out of the studio.
Noel picked the Kentucky over Georgetown and Syracuse.
“I know my Twitter is nuts right now,” said Noel, a senior center at Tilton School (Tilton, N.H.). “That’s just how Kentucky’s fans are, or should I say that’s how our fans are. I love it all.”
Even the inevitable expectation of a back-to-back title run?
On April 2, Kentucky held on to beat Kansas 67-59 and claim its first national title in 14 years. The last team to claim back-to-back titles was Florida in 2006 and 2007.
“I hope that Kentucky fans are expecting us to go back-to-back because that’s what I expect,” said Noel. “It’s championship or bust there, and I’m OK with that.”
Noel knows that most expect him to have an Anthony Davis-like impact as a freshman.
Davis, a freshman who led Kentucky in the title game with six points, 16 rebounds, five assists, six blocks and three steals, was the top-ranked player in 2011. Noel is the top-ranked player in 2012. They’re both 6-foot-10 centers that have the innate ability to spike shots like volleyballs and make even the most gifted slashers think twice before coming into the lane.
But is it fair to compare a high school senior to the Wooden Player of the Year and the national title game’s Most Outstanding Player?
“He’s got the same abilities,” said Archie Goodwin, a senior shooting guard at Sylvan Hills (Little Rock, Ark.) who will join Noel at Kentucky next season. “I feel like Nerlens could have a year just like Anthony so I’m excited to have him. With Nerlens in the lineup I’m OK with those expectations from fans.”
Alex Poythress concurred.
He said that having a player on the backline protecting the basket changes the complexion of the game “on a lot of different levels.”
“You can’t play the way you normally would with him down there and that’s great for us next year,” said Poythress, a senior swingman at Northeast (Clarksville, Tenn.) who will join Goodwin and Noel at Kentucky next season. “With Nerlens on board now I think my expectations may be even higher than the fans.”
Ditto for Noel.
“We’re competitors so of course we want to win it all,” Noel said. “That’s why I came here; I plan to win a national title so I’m good with our fans expecting it. They should. I know I do.”