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Kentucky is the choice for Noel

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / April 12, 2012
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When all the speculation was over, Nerlens Noel’s decision was in his head the entire time.

The Everett product and the top-ranked high school player in the country announced Wednesday he will sign with the national champion Kentucky Wildcats, ending a whirlwind stretch of college visits and a never-ending guessing game about where the 18-year-old would end up.

He did it by unveiling the Kentucky logo shaved into the back of his signature high-top fade.

In North Carolina for the Jordan Brand Classic, Noel announced the decision in a live signing day special on ESPNU. The show had more than a hint of LeBron James’s 2010 decision. Noel went so far as to say he would “take my talents’’ to Lexington, where he’ll play under coach John Calipari, who has become the hoops whisperer of one-and-done players.

After narrowing his list down to Syracuse, Georgetown, and Kentucky, he said he talked at length with his mother Tuesday night before finally making his decision.

“I just thought it was the best fit for me personally,’’ he said on the telecast. “I talked to my mom, she liked it as well. She liked all three of the schools. But when it came down to it, she liked Kentucky.’’

Noel visited Kentucky in February after making it known that he would reclassify from the class of 2013 to 2012.

“It’s a great relief for me,’’ he said. “Now [I] can just focus on my studies and getting better.’’

Everywhere except on the court, his high school career was a tangled one. He started at Everett High, following his two brothers Jim and Rodman (both college football players), but after breaking the growth plate in his left knee, he decided to transfer to Tilton School in New Hampshire. His decision to reclassify shook up the recruiting rankings. He went from the second-ranked player in the class of 2013 to the top-ranked player this year.

Tilton coach Marcus O’Neil said the choice of Kentucky was no surprise. Under Calipari, the Wildcats have had three straight No. 1 recruiting classes, mastering the art of turning players who stay for just one season into powerhouse teams.

“I’m happy for he and his family,’’ O’Neil said. “He has an opportunity to play on national TV, which I think he’ll enjoy. And at the end of the day he projects to make a lot of money, which hopefully will benefit he and his family.’’

While he was Noel’s coach at Everett, John DiBiaso tried to make inroads for the 6-foot-10-inch center at Georgetown, but he couldn’t deny that if Noel was eyeing the NBA, Kentucky was the obvious option.

“His goal is the NBA and it’s as good a choice as any I would say,’’ DiBiaso said. “If that’s what you’re looking to prepare for, they do a pretty good job of it. They’re the defending national champs, you’re going to get plenty of exposure, play with a great coach, great players. I’m sure all of those things factored in.’’

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