This is Wayne Selden's second year playing alongside big man Nerlens Noel, both in the high school season at Tilton (N.H.) and during the summer with the Boston Amateur Basketball Club. And yet only in pickup games, essentially goofing around, had he ever seen such a dominant run out of the 6-foot-11 center, currently ranked the No. 3 player in the Class of 2013.
"No I haven’t," the Class of 2014 guard said flatly. "The only time I've seen that is playing pickup up at Tilton. But to put that on a national display was just amazing."
Noel made a strong case for the country's top spot in the Class of 2013 this week at the Nike EYBL Championships, at the Peach Jam in North Augusta, S.C. Earlier in the week, ESPN senior recruiting analyst Dave Telep went as far as to say he's the nation's best high school defender since Greg Oden. In today's EYBL semifinals and finals, culminating with an EYBL championship, the Everett native lived up to the billing.
In the morning semifinals against Bay Area power Oakland Soldiers, Noel had a triple-double with 12 points, 10 rebounds and 11 blocks. In the finals against the YOMCA of Memphis, nationally televised on ESPNU, the big man registered 17 points, 10 rebounds and six blocks.
Leading 33-30 at the half against Memphis, the defense began forcing the wing players quickly into the lane and think abruptly on the run, essentially funneling the play right into Noel's hands around the rim.
Whereas in years past he's relied more on his length to alter shots, he now shows considerable explosion when taking off, coming up with several highlight-reel blocks that drew pop from the crowd. He still needs to put some more muscle on his long, skinny frame, but the natural shot-blocking acumen is rare for his age.
"He's been like that all year for us, very consistent," said BABC director and coach Leo Papile. "Defensively, he's probably our best passer, and you run so much offense through him, high post, and of course we're lucky to have a stud like Georges [Niang]. Nerlens has great delivery with the ball, [Rene] Castro and [Jaylen] Brantley trust him with pick and roll's, and his shot blocking is obviously in a whole other world. To do it on a larger stage, maybe one of the best young leagues in the world, he dominated at both ends."
"He really controlled the glass," said point guard Rene Castro. "People basically say he's a defensive player. But from this tournament, his left hand was just as consistent as his right, he can score from either hand. He's both now, and he can play offense and defense and be effective in both ends."
Niang, another Tilton teammate of Noel, backs up Selden's assertion "100 percent".
"Ohhh yeah," he laughed. "I mean, before he used to let a couple get by him, now I feel like nothing gets by him. Sometimes I might let someone go in, just to see someone else try it, and get blocked back in the face."
NIANG HOLDS OWN AGAINST GOODWIN
Niang was a teammate of YOMCA big man Shaq Goodwin last month at NBAPA Top 100 Camp, so he had an idea what he was getting into when he posted up against the Decatur, Ga. bred big man, currently ranked the No. 12 Class of 2012 prospect in the country.
Early on, the Methuen native found himself in a good battle fighting positioning against the exceptional lower-body strength of Goodwin, sometimes settling for jump hooks further out than he'd like. But in the second half, as the BABC sagged off into a three-quarter press and extended their lead, Niang was more economic in his motion, forcing Goodwin into off-balance positions. Niang finished with 21 points on 9 of 12 from the floor.
"The guy, he warrants double teams," Papile said of Niang. "But he gets outta trouble in double team. He finds an inch of opening and then is guy is 14 for 16 last night in the quarterfinals. The guy is just phenomenal on the low block."
BACKCOURT IN MOTION
Rene Castro and Jaylen Brantley have been called a lot of things.
Niang calls Castro "a one-man press breaker".
Selden called Brantley "one of the top 10 points guards in the Class of 2013".
At the end of the day, nobody seemed to be too far off. Brantley led all scorers with 24 points on 9 of 13 shooting in the championship game, while Castro directed traffic in the halfcourt efficiently in front of the packed crowd. Castro chalked it up to chemistry, having played together for two years now.
"Me and Jaylen understand each other," Castro said. "We're not athletic, but I think we're two very smart point guards who control the game. We try to control everything."