High school stars choose

Center Noel picks Kentucky; Muhammad opts for UCLA

- By Jim Halley USA TODAY

Five months ago, Nerlens Noel wasn’t even in the 2012 recruiting class, much less at the top of the class.

Noel, a 6-11 center from Everett, Mass., who plays for Tilton (N.H.) Prep, had played well during the summer, showing he could be a shot-blocking machine while playing for the Boston Amateur Basketball Club. Still, after dropping back a grade because of knee problems, he hadn’t planned on graduating until next year.

But not long after he dominated Michigan signee Mitch Mcgary in the Hoophall Classic in Springfiel­d, Mass., in January, scoring 22 points with eight blocked shots, he decided to reclassify to his original grade, making him a senior. On Wednesday he chose Kentucky over Syracuse and Georgetown, signing a letter of intent on the first day of the spring signing period for basketball, which extends through May 16.

“I’m taking my talents to the University of . . . ,” Noel said on ESPNU while turning to show the letters “UK” shaved into the back of his head.

He added that he made the decision after talking with his mother Tuesday night. “She thought (Kentucky) was the best fit for me, and I did, too,” he said.

In a text message to USA TODAY Sports, Noel said he wasn’t worried about his decision leaking out because of the haircut because he wore a hood over his head all day.

A day earlier, he had tweeted he would “shock the world” with his choice. While that was hardly the case, his signing and the signing of Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas) 6-6 small forward Shabazz Muhammad to UCLA will send ripples in college basketball circles. Most recruiting services have Noel No. 1 and Muhammad No. 2, though they are vastly different players.

“The easiest way to reference these two is one is the best offensive player in the class and the one’s the best defensive player,” ESPN recruiting analyst Dave Telep said. “We just watched Anthony Davis dominate the national championsh­ip game, almost without scoring a point, and Noel impacts the game in a big way defensivel­y. We also saw an uptick in his offense, which is why we put him at No. 1 in our rankings.”

Noel averaged 12.9 points, 7.9 rebounds and 3.9 blocks. Muhammad, a 6-6 slashing small forward, averaged 29.8 points, 9.9 rebounds and 2.5 assists while leading the Gaels to a state title.

“He’s got the physical tools as far as his size and his strength,” recruiting analyst Evan Daniels said of Muhammad. “What sticks out is his motor and his energy. At the Mcdonald’s games, he was playing harder than everyone.”

With Wednesday’s announceme­nts, four players in’s Top 50 in the 2012 class haven’t given a commitment, led by the No. 7 recruit, Anthony Bennett, a Canadian who plays forward for Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.).

 ?? By Jonathan Wiggs, The Boston Globe, via Getty Images ?? Soon-to-be Wildcat: Nerlens Noel was ranked No. 1 among prep players in the USA.
By Jonathan Wiggs, The Boston Globe, via Getty Images Soon-to-be Wildcat: Nerlens Noel was ranked No. 1 among prep players in the USA.

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