UK Men's Basketball

John Calipari salutes Nerlens Noel's coachability

Kentucky Wildcats forward Nerlens Noel (3) pumped his chest after a second half dunk as Kentucky defeated Transylvania 74-28  on Monday November 5, 2012 in Lexington, Ky.. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff
Kentucky Wildcats forward Nerlens Noel (3) pumped his chest after a second half dunk as Kentucky defeated Transylvania 74-28 on Monday November 5, 2012 in Lexington, Ky.. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff Herald-Leader

Given John Calipari's track record of winning and placing players in the NBA, logic suggests that players take the Kentucky coach's approach as basketball gospel.

Not necessarily. Or, maybe more precisely, not automatically.

After UK routed Transylvania 74-28 Monday night, Calipari saluted freshman Nerlens Noel's willingness to be coached. It sounded basic, fundamental and loaded with a duh-quality: Listen to the star coach. But at this early stage of the coach-player process of getting acquainted, Noel's coachability apparently stands out.

"He's excited about being coached this way, challenged and pushed," Calipari said of Noel. "And now I've just got to get a team full of guys accepting the fact that you've got to let us define your game a little bit."

UK fans with good memories may recall that Calipari voiced a similar surrender-to-the-blue-side appeal to Marquis Teague last season. Even a backlog of such stellar point guards as Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans, John Wall and Brandon Knight — talk about precedence! — did not prevent Teague from resisting for a while.

Calipari noted how two other freshmen this season, Alex Poythress and Archie Goodwin, need a bit more time to accept a new way to play.

"They're fighting it a little bit," the UK coach said. Therefore, Poythress might leave his feet unnecessarily or Goodwin might get too eager.

On Sunday, Calipari spoke of the transition his high-profile freshmen must make — from high school stars to complements to a college team effort.

"Before they did whatever they wanted to do because they were the best players," the UK coach said. "(The players might think) 'The rest of the guys can fix it after I do something stupid.'"

Poythress' play against Transy led Calipari to say, the forward "didn't rebound and didn't do all the things he's capable of doing. You're going against a 6-1 guy. You don't leave your feet. You come to a jump stop. Just score. If you miss the first one, rebound the second one and stick it in."

As for Goodwin, Calipari saw two halves: the first "awful" (no points, two turnovers) followed by an improved second.

"But that's what freshmen do," the UK coach said.

Noel, who arrived with the expectation of replacing national Player of the Year Anthony Davis, had the added burden of a late start. To gain eligibility, he stayed in the northeast this past summer for summer school.

"Yeah, I wish I could have gone (to UK's summer workouts)," he said. "But it definitely pushed me when I got here. It put (me) in the mindset of when I got here that I would have to put my all into it to get where I need to be as a player."

Calipari saluted Noel as the hardest-working player in practices.

"Is it showing?" the UK coach said before answering his own rhetorical question. "It's showing."

Against Transy, Noel led UK with 15 points. He also grabbed four rebounds, blocked a shot and made a steal.

"I've just worked my butt off to really get in shape and get physically ready for what we have in store for the season," Noel said of his production in exhibition play (32 points, 15 rebounds, five blocks). "And I think I've done a good job with it, but it's not done. I know I've got to kick it up another level for these teams like Maryland and Duke we have to play against. And be ready for them."

UK opens the season Friday in Brooklyn against Maryland.

How the coaches define Noel's style of play is more than a shot blocker who protects the basket, Calipari said.

"I want him to be a basketball player who happens to block shots," the UK coach said. "I don't want him to be (merely) a shot blocker."

Noel sounded ready to try to be what Calipari wants. When asked where he had most improved, the player spoke of an intangible.

"It would definitely have to be my confidence," he said. "I know that I can go to the hoop and score from the block. My confidence came from all the drills and repetition in practice."

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