NEW ORLEANS – Even on Bourbon Street it’s hard to hide the flat top.
Nerlens Noel (Everett, Mass./Tilton) towered above the crowd as he walked down one of America’s most famous strolling streets. The Kentucky Wildcats exercised their collective recruiting powers as a fanbase. As soon as one person recognized Noel, the chants, cheers and pleads for his signature began. I’m sure he’s in hundreds of pictures and he’ll be in family albums for the next generation of Wildcats fans, should he pick John Calipari’s program.
Most certainly, the Kentucky Wildcats were recruiting Noel this weekend. However, it wasn’t Calipari doing the heavy lifting; it was his assistant coaches – male and female – decked out in blue trying to sway the replacement for Anthony Davis to Lexington.
Syracuse could have enjoyed the same opportunity had it not been for Ohio State. Ironically, the year before, the Buckeyes and Orange watched UK win out for Davis. This time around, Ohio State popped the ‘Cuse in the regional finals, preventing the Orange fan base from joining the UK fans in the streets to serenade Noel. Although, there were two loyal Syracuse supporters who showed up to support Noel at Sunday’s All-American Championship. The two middle-aged men brought with them the Nerlens flat-top headgear that was used at the Carrier Dome during Nerlens’ official visit.
Also in Syracuse’s favor was the fact that Orange signees DaJuan Coleman (Syracuse, N.Y./Jamesville-DeWitt) and Jerami Grant (Hyattsville, Md./DeMatha) played on Nerlens’ team at the All-American Championship. We’ll see how persuasive those guys really are on April 11 when Nerlens announces on “Recruiting Nation.”
Before I got to New Orleans, I didn’t have a good feeling for Georgetown and its pursuit of Noel. Upon arriving, the whispers that weren’t there at the McDonald’s game began to ascend to real conversation. Georgetown, the team with a rich tradition of shot-swatters, are bigger players than I thought. And, I have proof.
Thirty minutes before the tip of the All-American Classic, standing courtside was none other than John Thompson, the legendary former coach of the Hoyas and father of the current coach. Maybe 1,000 people attended this all-star game and Thompson, along with UNC point guard Kendall Marshall were the most visible. Marshall was there because he’s a basketball junkie. Thompson was there to help his son.
Hall of Famer John Thompson doesn’t go to an all-star game 25 minutes outside of New Orleans on a Sunday unless there’s a reason. That reason was to see, and most importantly be seen by, the nation’s best available prospect.
The Hoyas' staff wasn’t allowed to be in the Lakefront Arena but trust me, they were well represented. You can’t miss Big John and he knew it. It’s clear the Hoyas aren’t conceding Noel to anyone. They unleashed a powerful recruiting tool. The man who is responsible for Ewing, Mourning, Mutombo and everyone before and most after, was there to see the next great college big man.
With Noel, the recruiting never stops, at least until April 11 when he and Shabazz Muhammad (Las Vegas/Bishop Gorman) put a host of fan bases out of their misery and make their selections.