College Basketball Recruiting: Is Nerlens Noel the Next Bill Russell?

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College Basketball Recruiting: Is Nerlens Noel the Next Bill Russell?
Nerlens Noel's defensive prowess has earned him a comparison to one of the NBA's all-time greats.

It may be a bit premature to compare any high school player to arguably the greatest defensive player of all time. After all, his accomplishments, which include 11 NBA championships, may never be matched. So is the comparison of Nerlens Noel to one of the all-time greats fair?

Probably not, but it's also not hard to see the similarities.

Russell was the anchor to one of the NBA's greatest dynasties, and he did it through his basketball IQ and defensive prowess.

While the competition in AAU basketball is not quite on par with that of the NBA, Noel has managed to replicate Russell's formula thus far in his basketball career. He is one of the very few prep players who make defense their top priority. Add in the fact that he's one of the best shot blockers to come out of high school in a number of years, and you have an immediate difference-maker on defense.

Noel's accolades only serve to reinforce his reputation as a defensive stopper, and he was recently awarded Five-Star Basketball's Summer Defensive Player of the Year award for his outstanding play in the AAU tournaments over the past couple of months.

Although admittedly lofty, the comparison to Russell has been picking up some steam.

“No one has ever been compared to Bill Russell, but I said that about this kid when he was in the eighth grade,” said  Noel’s AAU coach, Leo Papile, to the Louisville Courier-Journal. “He has a basketball brain like no other player that I have ever coached. He’s a special kid.”

The comparison is not lost on Noel, either, who models his game after the Boston Celtics Hall-of-Famer.

“I watch Bill Russell (film) a lot,” he informed Sporting News. “Whenever they have specials on him, I’ll be really interested in watching him, what he did in the past."

So, maybe the comparison isn't quite as crazy as it sounds. It would be absurd to think that Noel would be able to match Russell's accomplishments, but it's not so far-fetched to believe that he is made from the same mold.

John Calipari, one of Noel's main pursuers, offered up a more modest, though still generous, comparison, likening him to former UMass star Marcus Camby.

Regardless of the comparisons, you know what you're getting with Noel on the court. Although he is referred to as a one-man-zone defensively, he also provides a lot of value on the offensive side of the ball. He is a proficient low-post scorer and an even better passer. He still needs to improve his shot consistency, but he provides enough of a threat to keep defenses honest.

The only question that remains is: Where will he and his flat-top ultimately land?

A number of prominent schools have already made offers to him, including Connecticut, Duke, Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Pittsburgh and Syracuse.

Noel hasn't yet vocalized any clear favorites, but he expects to narrow down his list in early September.

He has already visited some of the more local schools, including Connecticut and Syracuse, leading some to believe that he may prefer to stay in the northeast. He recently dispelled this rumor in a live chat with TheUKNation.com, stating that location would not be a factor in his decision.

The interesting caveat to Noel's recruitment is the fact that although he is currently listed as a member of the 2013 class, he could possibly elect to reclassify to the 2012 class. In the previously mentioned live chat, he said that he was not sure if he would take that route, but did not discount it as a possibility.

A possible reclassification to 2012 would be welcome news to many top college coaches, as they continue to fight over a few top big men in the class, including Andre Drummond, who may choose to forgo college entirely.

If he elects to stay in the 2013 class, he has previously mentioned that he would like to play with either Julius Randle or Chris Walker, so college coaches would be well-served in finding a way to land one of these top five recruits.

Regardless of the class he chooses or his similarities to one of the game's all-time greatest, it is clear that Noel's recruitment is about to heat up.

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