April 11, 2012

For the last three years, Kentucky has claimed the nation's No. 1 recruiting class. This year, it dominated the competition en route to a national championship.

Now, John Calipari and staff have a chance to defend both titles: The Wildcats added 6-foot-10 center Nerlens Noel to its talent-rich 2012 class after the prized prospect announced his decision on ESPNU Wednesday night.

Noel made his commitment with flair. He turned to reveal a UK logo shaved into the back of his hair -- his manner of picking of the Wildcats over other finalists Syracuse and Georgetown.

"I'll be taking my talents for college to play at the University of [Kentucky]," said Noel. "I just thought it was the best fit for me personally. I talked to my mom and she liked it as well. She liked all three schools but when it came down to it she liked Kentucky."

Originally expected to be a member of the high school class of 2013, the five-star Noel decided in January that he would instead move back to his original class of 2012. Frankly, he saw little to be gained by spending another year in high school, and the nation's most dominant shot-blocker quickly elevated to No. 2 in the final Rivals150 rankings.

A personable kid with a trademark high-top, Noel is a precocious defensive talent. He rockets off the floor to block shots and, perhaps more important has a knack for controlling the ensuing rebound or directing blocks to teammates to begin fast breaks. After the transitions materialize, it's often Noel who finishes with dunks on the other end.

While better known for his defensive abilities, Noel is no slouch on offense, either. Though skinny, he's able to play through contact, and his skill set is rapidly developing. He can step out and hit jumpers between 12 and 17 feet and blows by opposing big men off of the dribble. He's also starting to hone a jump hook that he can convert over either shoulder or with either hand.

By adding Noel, the Wildcats have made a major claim to the nation's top recruiting class. In addition to Noel, they already have the nation's No. 8 player in combo forward Alex Poythress, the No. 14 player in shooting guard Archie Goodwin and the No. 40 player in center Willie Cauley.

Even though Kentucky is likely to lose several top contributors to the NBA in coming weeks, landing Noel assures that the program won't miss a beat. Expect Calipari and Co. to compete for another SEC title, and potentially, another NCAA championship.

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