- Mitch Sherman, College Football
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Nerlens Noel turned 18 Tuesday, the symbolic passage into adulthood for the top basketball prospect in the ESPNU 100. A big event, for sure.
Wednesday is bigger.
Noel (Everett, Mass/Tilton School) headlines the RecruitingNation Signing Day Special, along with No. 2-rated Shabazz Muhammad (Las Vegas/Bishop Gorman), at 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPNU as the spring signing period opens.
The 6-foot-10, 215-pound Noel plans to announce his selection between finalists Georgetown, Kentucky and Syracuse.
"I'm definitely ready for it to be done," Noel said this week, "because it's been a long process."
Therein lays a giant understatement.
Since Noel blocked 16 shots in two games at the Peach Jam's Nike Elite Youth Basketball League Finals in the summer of 2010, after his sophomore year at Everett (Mass.) High School, the recruiting process has accelerated to warp speed.
Noel transferred to Tilton, with plans to spend three years at the private academy in New Hampshire. There, Noel gained fame as a projected No. 1 pick in the NBA draft and reclassified this school year as a senior to sign with the Class of 2012. Amid reports of his many third-party influences, Noel said this decision was his own. He eliminated Connecticut and North Carolina in recent weeks and traveled home to Everett, Mass., on the north side of Boston on Tuesday to discuss the choice with his mother.
Before their visit, Noel characterized his selection of a school as "close" to complete.
"I'm feeling good about it," Noel said.
Tilton coach Marcus O'Neil said Noel handled recruiting "with about as much poise as you can."
"There's a lot of people tugging at his time and attention," O'Neil said, "which isn't an easy thing for an adult to handle. You're asking him to prioritize his life and say no to adults -- things that put him in a tough situation."
Of his finalists, Noel got a heavy dose of Kentucky while in New Orleans for the All-American Championship, which coincided with the Final Four. He was serenaded by UK fans and watched on TV as the Wildcats won the national title behind freshman center Anthony Davis.
Kansas held Davis scoreless in the first half and to six points on 1-of-10 shooting in the title game, yet he was named Most Outstanding Player at the Final Four.
With Davis likely to declare for the NBA draft, many envision Noel as the replacement -- a shot-blocking, rebounding extraordinaire with room for growth on the offensive end.
"I'm not going to look at it like that," Noel said. "He's his own person. I'm my own person."
Also in New Orleans, former Georgetown coach John Thompson, the father of the current Hoyas coach, showed up to watch Noel play at the All-American Championship.
"It was real humbling to see him there watching the game," Noel said of Thompson, who groomed the likes of Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutombo in college. "I was appreciative of him taking the time."
As for Syracuse, Noel enjoyed the atmosphere in coach Jim Boeheim's program, seemingly a good fit for a player of Noel's length and defensive acumen.
"They're a team," Noel said. "They act like they're brothers. They treat each other good, and I like the tradition they have."
O'Neil said he wished the decision had been less complicated.
"Just pick the one you want and go," the coach said. "In some ways, it should be less stressful. Unfortunately, it just doesn't work that way."
Noel said he views the passing of Wednesday's announcement as "a big relief."
New challenges await. Noel figures to enter the next chapter of his career more prepared to handle pressure because of his experience in recruiting.
Noel's immediate plans, though, do not involve his college or NBA future.
"I'll be focusing on my academics to finish the year strong," Noel said, "just getting better on the court and in the weight room."
Nerlens Noel and Shabazz Muhammad might not agree on the same school, but both will be very happy when the recruiting process is over.