Nerlens Noel helping make Henry Clay student's wish come true of meeting LeBron James

mfields@herald-leader.comJanuary 15, 2014 

Henry Clay sophomore Braxton Upthegrove usually gets his basketball fix by serving as manager for the Blue Devils boys' team and watching TV highlights of NBA superstar LeBron James.

On Friday, however, Upthegrove will get the thrill of his life when he meets James and also his University of Kentucky hero Nerlens Noel.

"When I see LeBron James I'm going to say, 'You're my favorite player, and my wish has come true,'" Upthegrove said. "And I get to see Nerlens Noel, too."

Upthegrove has his mom, Michelle, and Noel to thank for making it all happen.

Upthegrove, 16, needs a kidney transplant for the second time in his life. He got a transplant more than a decade ago, but his kidney function has been in failure the last two years. He's now on a waiting list for another transplant.

"Braxton has been sick since the day he was born, but he never complains," Michelle said. "He's on dialysis seven days a week, 10 hours a night, and he's just so happy to get off the machine and go do something.

"Basketball is the love of his life. His favorite teams are the Miami Heat and UK, and he loves LeBron James."

That's why Michelle has been working for two years to arrange for her son to meet James. Make-A-Wish Foundation tried to make it happen but couldn't.

When Noel took an interest in Braxton last year, things started to happen. Noel and his manager thought about bringing Braxton to the NBA Draft last summer, but that couldn't be worked out.

Everything seemed to be on hold until early this week, when Noel and his manager got in touch with Michelle. They hatched a plan off-the-cuff to fly Braxton and his mom to Philadelphia for Friday night's game between the 76ers and the Heat.

Bluegrass Hospitality Group is picking up the cost of the Upthegroves' airfare.

Braxton knew nothing about it until the surprise was sprung on him at halftime of the Henry Clay-Bryan Station game Tuesday night. Noel broke the news on a video that was shown on the gym wall at Bryan Station.

When Braxton heard he was going to Philly to meet James and Noel, he jumped for joy and accepted congratulations from a swarm of family, friends and Henry Clay players and coaches.

"He's going to be smiling ear-to-ear for the next few days," Michelle said. "And that's going to make me so happy."

Mike Fields: (859) 231-3337. Twitter: @MikeFieldsNotes. Blog: fieldsnotes.bloginky.com.

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