Kentucky Can Replace 10 Points Per Game, But Cats Can’t Replace NoelPosted by Brian Joyce on February 15th, 2013
Brian Joyce is a writer for the SEC microsite and regular contributor for Rush The Court. Follow him on Twitter for more about SEC basketball at bjoyce_hoops.
Kentucky lost its leader in minutes, rebounds, steals, and blocks per game on Tuesday night to a tragic torn ACL. Nerlens Noel started every game this season for the Wildcats. He averaged double figures in points while shooting almost 60 percent from the field, and that from a player largely considered to be a project offensively. But UK lost so much more on Tuesday night than simply its best all-around player. John Calipari and his team lost the very intangible product on the court and in the locker room it searched for all season. Kentucky lost a big piece of its roster on Tuesday night, but statistics are replaceable. Kentucky lost its heart and soul. And the Wildcats aren’t likely to find that again this season.
The real tragedy here is not in the hit on Kentucky’s NCAA chances, but for the student-athlete who must endure surgery and this unfortunate threat to his career. Kentucky’s ability to win basketball games is important to all of us who live and breathe college basketball every day, but we must remind ourselves that the players on that court are real people. They have real futures. And this particular person has a future that involves playing professional basketball. That point is not lost here, but was covered so well by ESPN.com writer Dana O’Neil’s coverage that doing lip service here just doesn’t do Noel justice. Read O’Neil’s piece as that echoes our sentiments of Noel the person, not just Noel the basketball player. The focus of this piece is on Noel the basketball player and his impact on Kentucky, and that impact reaches far beyond what you read in the box score.
Calipari is optimistic about his team’s immediate future because he has a seven-footer in Willie Cauley-Stein who is ready to step up in the middle and several freshmen who have mostly underachieved up to this point. “One guy’s misery becomes another man’s opportunity. Look, I still have a good team. Here’s the thing about our team: Guys got to start performing.” However, Calipari made it clear that everyone needs to step up. “Alright, his scoring is 10 per game. Well, guys are going to get more minutes. Willie is going to get more minutes. We can make up for that.” Calipari is correct about Noel’s points. The Wildcats can make up for that, but Kentucky can’t make up for Noel’s heart. The saddest part of Noel’s injury is that it occurred when he was the only player on the court hustling for the Wildcats in a game that Kentucky wasn’t likely to win. His grit exceeds his stat line. Noel’s heart, soul, hustle, and determination is what Kentucky needed far more of all season than his rebounds, blocks, or steals.
Noel’s impact on UK transcends the box score. The last snapshot we have of Noel in a Kentucky uniform is his college career in a nutshell. It didn’t matter if it was a one-point game or a double-digit deficit on the road, Noel never gave up. Teammate Julius Mays spoke about Noel’s effect on the team. “Obviously he’s a big part of our team, so just to see him go down, whether it’s major or minor, it hurts us because he’s a big energy guy,” Unfortunately for Kentucky, it will probably hurt far more than imagined.