The University of Kentucky Wildcats Men’s Basketball team lost to the University of Florida Gators 69-52. It was Head Coach John Calipari’s worst SEC loss since arriving in Lexington. The Cats looked flat. They looked a little scared. They looked… overmatched. But that’s not the biggest news from the game.
Nerlens Noel got hurt.
The Cats had just cut the Gator lead to 12 and were poised to get the lead down to 10 or, hopefully, nine. There was a turnover and the Florida player (doesn’t matter who) raced toward the goal. Right behind him was Nerlens Noel. And Noel did what he’s done over a 100 times this season… he blocked the shot. But, he landed awkwardly and immediately crumpled to the ground. The camera along the baseline zoomed in and you could hear Noel screaming in agony as he clutched his knee.
The last time a UK player went down in a similar fashion, Anthony Davis landed after getting a rebound against Baylor in the Elite Eight match up in the 2012 NCAA Tournament. Davis got up and walked it off and continued his push to NCAA Most Outstanding Player honors and leading the Cats to their eighth national title. And tonight, the entirety of Big Blue Nation hoped that Noel would do the same. We hoped that he would get up and lead a valiant charge back and that the Cats would be victorious.
Unfortunately, life is not a Disney movie.
We, as fans, forget that these are kids playing a game for our enjoyment. They fall down, they get back up. It happens all the time. Only, sometimes, it doesn’t happen. We ask that they give us everything. Give us their all and when they do? It’s so strange to think that athletes, the bigger, stronger and faster versions of us mere mortals are still human. They become numbers or hairstyles, replaced by the next group of modern day gladiators that are poised to battle for our own sense of of self-importance.
In one of those lasting images that sports tends to give us more than any other area of the world, Noel was carried off the court by his teammates. They get it. They understand the sacrifice that they make to play basketball on this level. As teammates, they know the long hours they put it. They understand how their time is allocated for them. Most of us in the Big Blue Nation literally have no clue. We don’t know how these kids have to band together while still performing for the most demanding fan base in the country. As Julius Mays said tonight in reference to carrying Noel off the court, “We’re all brothers. Win, lose or draw, we always got each other’s back.”
As of this writing, the condition of Nerlens Noel’s left knee is unknown. And, for the time being, the Big Blue faithful are waiting to hear news on this fine young man’s condition. I’m no doctor and I don’t know about Noel’s knee, but his heart, like all those in Blue is top notch.
Get better, Nerlens. We’re all rooting for you.