Big man Nerlens Noel chooses Kentucky

broberts@herald-leader.comApril 11, 2012 

  • UK's class of 2012

    High school seniors who have signed with Kentucky for 2012, listed withtheir overall ratings in the class according to three recruiting Web sites:

    Player Ht. Pos. Hometown Rivals Scout ESPN

    Willie Cauley-Stein 6-10 C Olathe, Kan. 40 35 40

    Archie Goodwin 6-4 SG Little Rock, Ark. 14 17 15

    Alex Poythress 6-7 F Clarksville, Tenn. 8 15 13

    Nerlens Noel 6-10 C Everett, Mass. 2 1 1

First, John Wall brought the dance moves. Then, Anthony Davis made opponents bow to the 'brow. It didn't take long for Kentucky basketball's newest No. 1 recruit to make his own stylish contribution to the program.

On Wednesday night, Nerlens Noel announced his decision to play for the Wildcats ... by having the UK logo shaved into the back of his trademark flattop.

And with that, John Calipari got his new man in the middle and all but clinched his fourth consecutive No. 1 recruiting class since coming to Lexington in 2009.

"We've got the makings of another really good team," Calipari said at the beginning of the made-for-ESPN special. "We sign a couple of more and we're on our way."

Things started heading in that direction less than an hour later with the addition of Noel, the No. 1 player in the class of 2012 according to Scout.com, ESPN and MaxPreps. Rivals.com ranks him No. 2 behind Shabazz Muhammad, who chose UCLA over UK and Duke earlier Wednesday night.

Call it a split decision day for Calipari and the Wildcats.

But it was enough for Scout and ESPN to immediately vault Kentucky past Arizona and into the No. 1 spot in the class of 2012 rankings.

Noel joins McDonald's All-Americans Archie Goodwin and Alex Poy thress, and four-star forward/center Willie Cauley-Stein in UK's recruiting class. Also, sophomore point guard Ryan Harrow will be eligible to play next season after transferring from North Carolina State last summer.

Noel said Goodwin, Poythress and UK's victory in last week's national championship game were all influential in his decision to play for the Cats.

"They both hit me up asking, 'Do you want to do that next season?'" Noel said. "And that's what pushed my decision over the top."

Noel, who chose Kentucky over Georgetown and Syracuse, already has set lofty goals. Shortly after announcing his decision, he tweeted a message to UK fans.

"BBN yall ready to get #9?!?!"

Noel, Goodwin and Poythress will participate in Saturday's Jordan Brand Classic in Charlotte, N.C., which will be televised on ESPN.

Considered the best shot blocker to come out of high school since Greg Oden in 2006, Noel is expected to make a serious run at the blocked-shot records Davis set during his freshman season at UK.

"Obviously, he's a dynamic player on defense," Goodwin said. "He just brings a lot to the table the way he works and the way he blocks shots. He's just another Anthony Davis in my eyes."

Muhammad, the Naismith Player of the Year and MVP of the McDonald's All-American Game, averaged 30.2 points during his senior season and would have given the Cats a much-needed scoring threat from the wing position.

Instead, he decided to join fellow top-five recruit Kyle Anderson in an attempt to get the Bruins back on track after a run of disappointing seasons.

"I just think it's a challenge knowing how bad they were these last few years," Muhammad said. "It's a big challenge trying to get them back up to the top."

Signing day didn't mark the end of the recruiting cycle for Calipari. UK remains in the mix for at least three high-profile players, and the Cats could use a little more help because they are expected to lose their entire starting five along with departing seniors Darius Miller and Eloy Vargas.

No. 1 on Kentucky's wish list is Anthony Bennett, a five-star power forward from Canada. Bennett is ranked No. 7 in the country by Rivals, Scout and ESPN and played his senior season at high school powerhouse Findlay Prep in Henderson, Nev.

Calipari was the only head coach to meet with Bennett at last week's Nike Hoop Summit in Portland, Ore., according to Rivals.com. UK assistants Orlando Antigua and Kenny Payne also were in the meeting, along with Bennett's mother and travel team coach.

The 6-foot-8, 230-pound forward also is considering Florida, UNLV, Oregon and Washington. He plans to visit all five schools before making a decision.

UConn transfer Alex Oriakhi, who will be a senior next season, and top-50 recruit Amile Jefferson also have Kentucky among their final schools. Both of those players are expected to announce their decisions this month.

Noel could become the latest in Calipari's line of blue-chip recruits who bolt for the NBA after one year of college. He also could end up being the fourth No. 1 overall draft pick to play under Calipari, assuming Davis goes pro this year as expected.

ESPN's Chad Ford updated his 2013 mock draft Wednesday night to put Noel in the top spot. DraftExpress.com also has Noel going No. 1 in next year's draft.

But first, Noel will play at least one season in Rupp Arena. And if he lives up to his own expectations, he'll be leaving a banner behind.

Twitter: @NextCats. Blog: ukrecruiting.bloginky.com

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