Nerlens Noel swats his way to dominance

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Nerlens Noel is a nice guy so he’s willing to give you the first one. It’s only when you’ve become a repeat offender that he can’t help but to feel some kind of way about it.

When opposing big men or driving guards have the gall to attempt a shot in Noel’s lane, it offends him deeply. Therefore he’s forced to send an early message.

“I try and swat their shots even further into the stands or down the court,” said Noel, a junior center at Tilton (Tilton, N.H.) who is ranked No. 2 in the ESPNU 60. “To be honest, it makes me feel a little disrespected.”

Makes sense for a player who, after the win, only cares about his block total for the game. This season Noel is averaging 7.5 blocks to go along with 12 points and 10 rebounds.

He blocked six shots, scored nine points, dished out six assists and snagged 17 rebounds in Tilton’s 80-50 win over Friends Central (Philadelphia) Monday night in the Signature Series semifinals of the City of Palms Classic.

Tilton will play Willbraham Monson (Willbraham, Mass.) Wednesday for the championship at 7:15 p.m. ET.

“Nerlens is just all over the place,” said Friends Central forward Amile Jefferson, a senior who is ranked No. 24 in the ESPNU 100. “He contests every shot and you’ve got to be aware of where he is at all times. He’s not the biggest guy on the court, but he plays like it.”

Noel is rail thin.

At 6-foot-11 -- roughly 1 ½ inches of that is all high-top -- he only weighs 215 pounds, but don’t let the size fool you.

“Blocking shots is all about timing,” Noel said. “It doesn’t matter how big and strong a guy that I have to guard is, I know how to time blocks really well. You get your shot blocked a few times and you’re gonna start pump-faking. Then I’ve got you.”

Tony Parker can attest to that.

As one of the toughest, most physically imposing big men in the country, regardless of class, Parker bangs centers and forwards around in the paint and finishes with strong dunks, short hook shots or jump shots almost at will.

Still, as dominant as Parker is, when he’s playing against Noel, Parker knows that he’s got to, at the very least, tweak his whole offensive repertoire.

“Gotta think twice when Nerlens is in the lane,” said Parker, a senior forward at Miller Grove (Lithonia, Ga.). “He’s the best shot blocker in the country for sure. And he’s only getting better.”

Last summer in the Nike Peach Jam title game, Noel dominated YOMCA (Memphis, Tenn.) big men Shaq Goodwin and Jarnell Stokes, both of whom are known for their physical post game. Noel finished with 17 points, 10 rebounds, six blocks and countless deflections and changed shots.

That kind of dominance has heavyweights like Syracuse, Providence, Duke, Florida, Kentucky, Louisville, Georgetown and Connecticut, among others, in hot pursuit. Most sat courtside Monday watching Noel dominate.

“Most of the schools recruiting me feel like I can step right in and help their team,” Noel said. “All of the schools on my list think I’m ready to contribute right away.”

Hence the popular rumor that Noel is indeed planning to reclassify to 2012 and lace ‘em up for a college team next season.

“Yeah I’ve heard that one,” Noel said of the rumor. “I’m not gonna do that though. I’m 90 percent sure that I won’t reclassify. But the fact that those coaches think I can play now, definitely gives me even more confidence on the court.”

Enough to feel like he’s one spot too low in the rankings? Simeon (Chicago) swingman Jabari Parker currently holds down the top spot in 2013.

Noel laughs and pauses before saying, “Well, if I am, I am and if I’m not, I’m not. I don’t know, I do feel like all around I’m the best. So essentially yeah I feel like I’m the best.”

Right away it's obvious that Noel’s not at all comfortable with what he’s just said. He subsequently changes the subject with the same precision he uses to spike shots like volleyballs.

He’s much more comfortable being committal when it comes to his abilities with a video game controller.

“I’m definitely the best in the country when it comes to NBA 2K,” Noel said. “Ask all of the guys at the Elite 24. I beat everyone I played. Marcus Paige, Savon Goodman, Nate Britt, Amile Jefferson… All of them. I don’t know if it makes me a better at it, but I block a lot of shots on 2K too.”


Jason Jordan is the basketball editor for ESPNHS. He can be reached at jason.x.jordan.-ND@espn.com. Don't forget to follow him on Twitter: @JayJayESPN