Hoya fans had their Final Four dreams for next season fade substantially Wednesday night, whenTilton School center and national No. 1 recruit Nerlens Noel chose to sign with Kentucky, discarding the Hoyas and fellow finalist Syracuse.
Noel appeared on ESPNU’s signing day special Wednesday night to reveal his decision. The 6-foot-10 center channeled Miami Heat star LeBron James, announcing that he would be “taking his talents” to Kentucky before spinning in his chair to reveal the Wildcats’ logo shaved into the back of his head.
Noel ignited a firestorm this season by reclassifying to the Class of 2012 in February. He instantly replaced Shabazz Muhammad as the nation’s No. 1 prep star, slowly eliminating teams until he narrowed his list to three a few weeks ago before making his final decision Wednesday night, the day after his 18th birthday.
Hoya fans may be feeling a bit of déjà vu: Noel’s decision is quite similar to that of Andre Drummond. Last summer, Drummond surprised the nation by reclassifying to the Class of 2011 and caused a very late recruitment battle as the new No. 2 player in the country. The 6-foot-11 center narrowed his list to five finalists, the Hoyas amongst them, before settling on then-reigning national champions Connecticut.
Noel was seen by many as a perfect fit for Georgetown — widely known as “Big Man U” —which has produced such names as Ewing, Mutumbo, Mourning, Hibbert and Monroe. With the potential to become the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, Noel would have given the Hoyas the title of being the only program to ever produce three No. 1 overall picks, the previous two being Patrick Ewing and Allen Iverson.
Noel has been as popular a topic for conversation among the fanbases of all three schools he was considering. Kentucky and Syracuse spent the season trading the No. 1 and No. 2 national rankings, and Georgetown was among the nation’s biggest surprises, earning a top-10 national ranking after being picked to finish 10th in the conference at the beginning of the year.
The Everett, Mass. native attended Georgetown’s Selection Sunday celebration in O’Donovan Hall last month, when the Hoyas were picked as a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament. The Hoya faithful chanted his name and held up signs reading “Bring the flat top back to the Hilltop,” in reference to Noel’s signature haircut.
Former Georgetown head coach John Thompson Jr. was on hand in New Orleans during the Final Four to watch Noel play in a high school all-star game. It was during that time that Noel also watched the Wildcats win the national championship on the back of freshman center Anthony Davis, to whom Noel has been compared by many.
More pressing is the fact that the Hoyas do not have a clear replacement in the middle for graduating center Henry Sims. Freshman center Tyler Adams missed most of this season due to a heart condition, while sophomore center Moses Ayegba sat out the entire year with a torn ACL.
Georgetown is still in the running for Robert Upshaw and Devonta Pollard, both Top-50 prospects.Upshaw, a 6-foot-11 center from California, could provide a sorely needed inside presence. Pollard is a versatile 6-foot-7 swingman from Mississippi who can score in bunches and rebound well. Both players should make their decision within the next month. Upshaw is choosing between the Hoyasand Fresno State, while Pollard is considering Missouri, Texas and Alabama in addition to Georgetown.