by Josh Wilson
The outcome hasn’t been announced yet, but while all of Kentucky’s Big Blue Nation waits with bated breath, an 18 year old kid sits in Lexington and worries about his future. (Editor’s Note: Multiple sources are now reporting Nerlens Noel will miss the remainder of the season with a torn ACL) Tuesday night in Gainesville the Cats were battling against the Florida Gators. It had been a rough night for Kentucky but it was about to take a turn for the worse. Nerlens Noel, the projected number one draft pick in the upcoming NBA draft, had been the spark all season for the freshman led Wildcats. While many of his teammates looked utterly shocked by the Gators, Noel kept fighting like he has all season. The 4-time SEC Freshman of the Week ran down the court to block a fast break attempt and that is when an athlete’s biggest fear became a reality.
After landing awkwardly and falling to the floor Noel grasped his left leg and screamed. I wasn’t actually watching the game due to a family visitation but I have since watched the clip and seen the photos multiple times. Nerlens Noel is a tough guy, he battles through anything to play the game he loves so for him to lay on the floor and scream, he had to be in pain. After what seemed to be an eternity Nerlens rose from the floor with help of his teammates, their brother’s keepers. From an avid Kentucky fan, that moment, watching Noel being carried off the floor by his teammates, had to be the greatest thing I’ve seen them do all season. Whether or not the team rallies around this moment, saves the season, and makes some noise in March are only a secondary concerns on Big Blue Nation’s mind right now. We want Nerlens to be okay, we want our brother to be healthy and able to go on to great things.
John Calipari has long been criticized for his ability to recruit one and done players but, as he’s been quoted multiple times, those are the rules and you have to play within that system. The biggest question of the one and done system is the one that’s often glossed over until it happens. What would happen if the number one draft pick goes down in college? Tuesday night, it happened, the worst case scenario is a reality. Now a system that had many critics for other reasons is coming into question for a new reason.
I never liked the one and done rule, I had always thought football had a better system. Keep them in school, get a degree, and then the athletes always have a plan B. It sounds good in your head right? Now it just seems selfish. Yes I want kids to get a degree and I hope the talented ones get a degree from the University of Kentucky. Tuesday night, seeing Nerlens Noel, a guy who is active in the community and has a bright future, writhing in pain on the court changed my mind. If a kid has the ability to make the jump from high school to NBA and secure a million dollar contract why have him come to college FOR A YEAR and risk injury? A year in college isn’t helping anyone academically, I should know, I’ve been in college for like 5.
In the end it all lies with the NBA. They have final say who can and can’t enter the league. When someone questions the rule, Darth Vader… I mean Commissioner Stern says, well there’s always the budding European League. Nice job Stern, way to support your future athletes. I see two options here; One I think is decent, the other is the answer to the problem. Option A: eliminate the One and Done and let kids go straight out of high school. Option B: Make them stay 3 years, senior year optional, increase their stipend, and have the universities open insurance policies on the athletes in case of injury. The second is the way I believe to go. It helps players get a degree and should a problem arise and an athlete can’t go pro, not because they went undrafted, but due to injury, they can at least be taken care of. As we wait to learn about the fate of Nerlens Noel, I don’t mind if he never suits up for UK again, but I pray he isn’t done with basketball. I’d love to see him back in blue. However, if he isn’t able to return to basketball then the NBA and the NCAA need to reevaluate the rule immediately.
As I first watched the clip of Noel on the floor my eyes began to tear up. If David Stern or anyone in any position in the NCAA can watch that moment and not feel selfish and hurt for that young man, than they don’t deserve their jobs. I’m praying for you Nerlens, get well soon.