Nerlens Noel has been blowing out birthday candles and wishing for the NBA since he was 8

Nerlens Noel - photo by Tammie Brown |
Nerlens Noel – photo by Tammie Brown |

Once the candles were lit, the routine was always the same.  would lean over his cake as family and friends sang “Happy Birthday,” stare down at the flickering flames and close his eyes.  “I wish to play in the NBA,” Noel would say to himself.  Then he’d blow out the candles while everyone cheered.  “I started doing it when I turned 8,” Noel said. “No one knew what I was thinking, because you’re not supposed to tell anyone what you wish for. But playing in the has been my dream for a long time.”  Now 18, Noel is sitting in the dining hall at Wildcat Coal Lodge at the University of Kentucky, discussing his goals for a freshman season that is rapidly approaching. The room is otherwise quiet until assistant coach walks in with a pair of recruits and their families. Face time with a player whose photo is on the cover of a magazine displayed in a nearby rack seems like the perfect way to end the tour, so Antigua motions for Noel to come say hello.


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