NEW YORK – Nov. 9, 2012, in Brooklyn of all places in a great alignment of history. Kentucky vs. Maryland.
Nerlens Noel vs. Alex Len.
It was the first game of the season for both schools and the first step in Len blossoming into a top-10 pick… and the first head-to-head showdown with Noel. The second is in a few hours, with both big men vying to become the Cavaliers’ choice for the No. 1 pick in a very uncertain draft to be held in the same Barclays Center as the meeting in 7 1/2 months ago.
To say the November matchup will become a defining moment for what happens tonight is wrong. That would be overstating a situation that also includes reviewing important medical reports and the obligatory background checks. But it would be fair to say the tape has received a very, very thorough review by teams picking in the top five.
Len, a sophomore center, had 23 points and 12 rebounds, both career highs at the time, in 32 minutes. Noel, a freshman power forward, contributed four points and nine rebounds in 26 minutes in his college debut to Kentucky’s 72-69 victory.
“It seems like a long time ago,” Len said. “But it was a great game. It was the first game of the season. I was mad because we lost, but it was a great game for me. I could show that I had potential to be an NBA player.”
He didn’t stop showing it. Len averaged 11.9 points and 7.8 rebounds in 26.4 minutes while shooting 68.6 percent and leading the Atlantic Coast Conference in blocks. He played his way from promising big man to certain top-10 pick to a very good chance for the top five and maybe even the first choice, starting with Nov. 9 in Brooklyn.