Freshman center Nerlens Noel is being counted on to help continue the phenomenal success coach John Calipari has had the last three years at the University of Kentucky.
But success has long been a part of the Noel family since he has two older brothers — Rodman (North Carolina State) and Jim (Boston College) — also playing Division I¿sports.
“We were just a blessed family. Our mom is a hard working mother,” said Rodman Noel, a sophomore linebacker who has 10 solo tackles, four assists and one interception this season. “She helped teach us to work hard every day and make sure we kept working. I think we all had dreams of going pro in basketball, but me and my older brother took a different route. But I think we all always expected to be successful. That’s the way we were raised.
“He always knew he could compete with us even though we made it hard on him. I think it helped his confidence and motivated him going against us.”
Jim Noel, a senior defensive back with 14 solo stops and four tackles for loss this year, said he originally dreamed of playing basketball at North Carolina.
“But then me and Rodman realized football would be better for us. Both our parents played soccer and had athletic ability, but we got most of our ability I think from our hard work. Our mother always told us whatever we were doing, do our best,” Jim Noel said. “And I think for the most part we did that. We know that it is special to have a family full of Division I athletes. We try not to brag about it and not bring attention on us. But we know it is special. I try to talk to both of them every few days and just see how they are doing.”
Rodman was named the seventh-best prep school player in the country by Rivals.com and was nominated for the 2009 Army All-American Bowl. Jim was selected to play in the 31st Annual Shriners Football Classic and helped the AAU¿Massachusetts Renegades win the state title and super regional championship in basketball in 2007. Jim has played in 37 games with 19 starts.
The football playing brothers never cut Nerlens any slack when they were growing up and playing pickup games against him.
“We were tough on him ever since he was a little kid. We always picked on him to make him tougher,” Rodman Noel said. “Now he doesn’t take any anything from anybody. He toughened up.”
“We are a competitive family. Everybody tries to better everybody else no matter what we are doing whether it’s at the dinner table or basketball court,” Jim said. “I can remember me and Rodman would play him and somebody else and if there was a foul he wanted to call, we told him he had to be tougher. He had to grow up fast because of all that stuff.
“But being hard on him helped him. He really wasn’t able to compete that well with us until he started growing in the seventh grade. Then we had no chance against him. I don’t know if he helped us athletically playing against him, but it helped our family for our mom to see all her sons go to Division I school and not have to pay for it.”
Nerlens also played football early in his athletic career, but his brothers say it was not hard to know where his future was.
“Nerlens was pretty good in football back in Pop Warner. That’s all I’ll say,” Rodman Noel said. “When he got to high school, he knew his football career was over. He played just about every position on the field.¿He did it all, but it was pretty obvious basketball was his sport.
“Our parents really let us decide on our own about sports. The primary thing with them was school, and sports were second. Once you had your school work handled, then everything else fell into place. So that’s how we all got to pick what sports we wanted to play.”
The brothers knew how highly coveted Nerlens, the nation’s top-ranked 2012 recruit, was by the top basketball programs and tried not to impact his college decision in any way.
“I gave him some advice on recruiting now and then, but most of the time we let him do what he wanted to do. He knew he could always ask his older brothers anything if he needed us,” Rodman said. “Any choice he made, I would have been happy for him. I¿am proud of him now. As long as he’s happy, I’m happy for him.
“We are a close family, especially when we are all at home. We support each other and get along great. We all also expect big things from each other.”
“I was going to support him wherever he went. But yes, I am a big Kentucky basketball fan now,” Jim said. “I really didn’t care where he went. I am just proud he got to this point as a player. I didn’t care if he went Division I or Division III. I am just happy he got to continue his dream of playing basketball.”
“We are very proud of what he’s already done and what people are saying he could do in the future. He’s our younger brother and you have to be proud of that. But I think he’s proud of both of us, too.”
Jim and Rodman has no doubt that Nerlens will make an immediate impact at Kentucky.
“Nerlens is a great person, great player. He will come in and work hard. He will just give everything he has and he has special, special abilities,” Jim said. “We are not better athletes than him. You can tell he was the better athlete with his size and athleticism. Me and Rodman did not grow like he did. If he says we are better athletes than him, he’s just being nice because we weren’t. He’s the special athlete in the family.”
“Kentucky has got a great guy over there. The fans should be expecting high expectations from him. He’s going to put on a show. He’s really, really good,” Rodman said. “I want to come down during our (semester) break to see him play, but it will be hard.”
There was one season they all played together on their high school basketball team.
“It was great. Me and Jim played forwards. We had our biggest team ever that year. Everybody was big,” Rodman said.
“You would probably have to ask him (Nerlens) who was the best player. My job was just to score and it didn’t matter what else happened,” Jim said.
But now that the Noels are playing Division I¿sports at three different schools, how do their parents — Dorcina and Yonel Noel — decide who to go see and when?
“They are going to follow all of us. She is coming to Kentucky for Midnight Madness. She will still come to my games when she can. Our family will get out and support us all,” Jim said.
“We talk to each other about twice a week. We will always talk on weekends after we play games to catch up on how we did and I’m sure we’ll do the same when he starts playing and our parents will just figure it out,” Rodman Noel said. “We all hard work, but most of our success is due to our character.
“A lot of people say we are the same on and off the court. It’s just the way we respect people and treat people. We know we’ve been blessed with talent and we all try to use that talent and that certainly includes Nerlens. Kentucky fans will soon know they have somebody really special.”