Although he's entering this year's NBA Draft, Nerlens Noel said Tuesday that Kentucky will not be without a player like him next season. His name? Willie Cauley-Stein.
"In another year, he can be one of the best big men in the country," Noel said. "Definitely."
Noel, who has been projected as the first player taken in this year's NBA Draft, averaged 4.4 blocks a game this past season. He set a UK record with 12 blocks in a victory at Ole Miss. He all but predicted Cauley-Stein will follow in the same path.
"Next year, I'm sure he's going to dominate the collegiate ranks," Noel said of Cauley-Stein, "and move on to bigger and better things."
Cauley-Stein, a 7-footer from Olathe, Kan., will be in the minority among UK players next season. That is to say he was not a McDonald's All-American.
But to support his outsized expectations, Noel noted how much Cauley-Stein had improved last season.
"A lot, a lot," Noel said. "He made so much progress. ...
"At the beginning, he wasn't too sure about things," Noel said. "As the season went along, he got so much more confident, and so sure of himself. There were just times in practice he would just dominate. You'd see flashes. Willie has come a very long road mentally and physically."
Noel's season-ending torn anterior cruciate ligament at Florida on Feb. 12 sped Cauley-Stein's development. Suddenly, he became Kentucky's primary big man.
On Monday, Cauley-Stein noted how UK Coach John Calipari had asked him to accept a leadership role next season. He said he'd grown to embrace an expanded role next season.
"This (coming) year, I want to do it," he said. "I don't want to try to do it."