GAINESVILLE, Fla. - From his vantage point at the other end of the court, John Calipari didn't have much of a view of the play that very well may have irretrievably altered the course of Kentucky's season. The screams likely revealed more than enough.
Nerlens Noel clutches his left knee after injuring it in second half in Kentucky's loss at Florida (Steven Johnson/GatorBait)
Nerlens Noel's fabulous freshman season remains in medical purgatory after he slammed into the basket standard and crumpled to the O'Connell Center floor gripping his left knee while screaming in pain. The 6-foot-11 forward had just chased down Florida guard Mike Rosario on what appeared to be an uncontested breakaway, swatting Rosario's shot away at the rim before his momentum carried him into the goal support.
“I didn't see much,” Calipari said. “They just said it looked ugly. I don't know. We'll have to see.
“He was yelling and screaming, so that's why I stayed (on the court with him). It's unfortunate. I just hope and pray that he's OK.”
The Cats were torn to pieces by an older, savvier Florida squad in a showdown for first place in the Southeastern Conference standings but that was on few people's minds after the Gators closed out their 69-52 victory. The image of Noel being carried off the court by teammates may be the lasting one of a season that began with a preseason top five ranking yet seen its share of struggles.
“We’re all brothers,” UK senior guard Julius Mays said. “Win, lose or draw, we’ve got each other’s back. We saw him go down, just helped him off.”
Noel, who pushed his season block total to 106 on the ill-fated play, was taken from the O'Connell Center in a wheelchair, bound for a local hospital to have the injury examined. Calipari said he hoped Noel would be able to fly home with the team but gave little details other than to express the difficulty in watching one of his players go down.
“Like, I'm physically sick right now for him, and if it were a walk-on, I'd be sick for that young man, too,” Calipari said. “What I'm hoping is it's not the extreme. Hoping it's some sort of twist, but again, we don't know.”
Noel's injury hit both teams hard. Florida forward Patric Young, who battled with Noel throughout much of the game, gave a chilling description of what he saw while Noel writhed on the court in pain.
Noel rises to block Miek Rosario's shot on the play where he injures his knee (Steven Johnson/GatorBait)
"His leg was wobbly, knee looked dislocated,” Young told the Palm Beach Post. “It was gruesome. I don't want to think about it.”
“I don't know what ended up happening,: Florida coach Billy Donovan added. “I actually did not see what happened. I admire the way he plays and admire his injury. I don't know how bad he is hurt but the injury came form a hustle player and that embodies him as a player. It's sad if there is any duration to him being out because I think coaches admire the way he plays.”
The sad irony for Noel is the injury occurred while doing exactly what Calipari has implored his team to do all season: don't hang your head after a mistake, get back on defense, refuse to quit on or concede a play.
“Obviously he’s a big part of our team, so just to see him go down, whether it was major or minor, it hurts us,” Mays said. “Because he’s a big energy guy and he makes the game different for us.”
With Noel on his way to the hospital and a definitive diagnosis not yet available, Calipari shook his head and refused to ponder the possibility of life without one of the nation's most imposing defensive forces.
“I'm not going to think about that,” Calipari said. “I'm worried about the kid right now.”
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