By CHIP MILLER &
Speaking for the first time since The New York Times reported earlier this week that the NCAA was looking into his background, Kentucky signee Nerlens Noel said the NCAA hasn’t contacted him or his mother directly and that he’s in “great position to qualify.”
“No, the NCAA hasn’t contacted me or my mom directly,” the 6-foot-10 Noel, the projected No. 1 pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, said Thursday night by phone.
The Times reported that the NCAA this week sent two investigators – Frank Smith and Cindi Merrill – to Noel’s previous high school, Everett (Mass.), to look into various aspects of his past.
Speaking with SNY.tv this week, an NCAA source described the process related to Noel as “routine fact finding.” Kentucky has declined comment on the matter.
The Times story said Noel — who reclassified from the Class of 2013 to 2012 — was on track to graduate from The Tilton (N.H.) School May 19 but that he was “expected to take course work after graduation to help him qualify.” It also raised the possibility that Noel might not qualify academically for a scholarship
“I don’t want to be too specific, but I’m in a good position to qualify,” Noel said in response to the story.
“There’s not really much I have to do to not qualify. I’m mean, in a great position right now, there’s nothing really wrong with the situation.”
As for the specifics of his academics situation, Noel said: ”This is my fourth year of high school. Because I’m supposed to have four English’s and two of them are the same from when I switched schools, I was put in another sophomore English by Tilton school so I just have to take care of that.”
Noel said the process of reclassifying was not that big of a hurdle for him.
“There weren’t any hurdles,” he said. “It was like not even a month period, it was about three weeks. They just had to bring it past certain departments of the school to see if I was eligible for it, and I was. There was a couple of requirements I had to meet, which I’ve already met. And it wasn’t nothing too difficult at all.”
The Times further reported that the NCAA is looking into his relationships with Chris Driscoll and Errol Randolph.
“I’m just going to leave that alone,” Noel said of his relationship with the men.
Driscoll is a former coach with the Boston Area Basketball Club, Noel’s AAU team, and at Providence College. He serves as a mentor for Noel, but has been called by Leo Papile, the director of the BABC, “the worst guy he’s ever dealt with in the game.”
Driscoll declined comment.
Randolph is a former substitute teacher at Everett High who is also reportedly close with Noel and reportedly has ties to NBA agent Andy Miller.
The Times said the NCAA is also looking into who funded Noel’s unofficial visits to Kentucky and Louisville. Schools pay for official visits, while student-athletes must pay for unofficial trips.
“I’m going to leave that alone as well,” Noel said.
Asked for any additional comment on the New York Times story, Noel said: “At the end of the day, the media is going to be the media and do what they do but I mean, the main thing is just to staying positive and never really letting the media get you down, cause that’s how its going to be at the end of the day.”
Noel has been called the best non-NBA shot-blocker in America and the second coming of Anthony Davis, the presumptive No. 1 pick in the upcoming NBA Draft.
Asked if he felt pressure to live up to those lofty expectations, Noel conceded he did.
“Yeah, I do to a certain degree but at the end of the day I know I have to come out there and play my game and I know Coach [John] Calipari is going to put me in a good position to play well and win at the same time,” Noel said.
When Noel signed last month with Kentucky, Calipari said: “I’ve been blessed three times in my career to have a player that can change the game without really scoring with Marcus Camby, Anthony Davis and now Nerlens Noel. I will tell you that Nerlens, just like Anthony, is not a finished product. He’s got a lot of work to do and we have a lot of work to do to get him to where I think he’s capable of being, but he is a special player who I am ecstatic to have an opportunity to work with.”
Davis led Kentucky to its eighth NCAA championship last month in New Orleans, and Noel and fellow recruits Alex Poythress, Archie Goodwin and Willie Cauley, along with transfer Ryan Harrow, will be expected by Big Blue Nation to make a run at No. 9 next spring.
“Yes, sir, it’s definite added pressure, but I think that pressure will just us this offseason to work even harder and get where we want to be when the season starts,” Noel said.
He is not certain when he will arrive on Kentucky’s campus but said, “I know I’ll be there early June or early July, one of those.”
Noel said his mother was originally leaning toward Georgetown, but in the end the family felt Kentucky was the best choice.
“It was a tough process,” Noel said. “It took a while knowing that I only had a couple of months from when I reclassified to really make a decision, but I think I really did a good job in the time I had. I sat down with my family and had a conversation about each school.
“I think at the end of the day I spoke with my mom and she was leaning to Georgetown but I told her Kentucky was the perfect fit for me. I mean she really looked into Kentucky and she fell in love with Kentucky itself seeing how much they put into the basketball and how much support they had.”
Noel’s mother eventually established a strong bond with Calipari and the staff, Noel said.
“Just the support they had and just seeing how much, well she met the coaches and everything,” he said. “I think that really put her over the top cause she felt comfortable and she trusted them to take care of me while I was there. I think it was just establishing a great relationship with the coaches.”
Noel said he continues to maintain strong ties to Calipari and the staff.
“I do have a great relationship with him and Coach Orlando [Antigua],” he said, “and everybody on the coaches’ staff I’ve built a pretty good relationship with.”