Campus Rivalry: The passion and tradition of college basketball and football live here

Five months ago, Nerlens Noel wasn’t even in the 2012 recruiting class, much less the top of the class. Now, he’s being heralded as Anthony Davis 2.0.

Wednesday, the nation’s top recruit chose Kentucky over Syracuse and Georgetown, signing a letter of intent in the first day of the spring signing period for basketball.

“I’ll be taking my talents to play at the University of …,” Noel said, then he turned around to show UK shaved into the back of his head.

“(My mom) thought it was the best fit for me and I did too,” he said.

But he wasn’t always going to “take his talents” to college this soon. Noel, a 6-11 center from Everett, Mass., who plays for Tilton (N.H.) Prep, had played well over the past summer, showing he could be a shot-blocking machine while playing for the Boston Amateur Basketball Club. but he dropped back a grade after having knee problems and hadn’t planned on graduating until next year.

Not long after he dominated Michigan signee Mitch McGary at the Hoophall Classic in Springfield, Mass., in January, scoring 22 points with eight blocks, he decided to reclassify to his original grade, making him a senior now.

Another elite defensive big man, Davis, led Kentucky to the national championship as a freshman. Some see Noel, who averaged 12.6 points, 3.9 blocks and 7.9 rebounds this season at Tilton, as capable of a Davis-type impact next season.

“We just watched Anthony Davis dominate the national championship game, almost without scoring a point, and Noel impacts the game in a big way defensively,” said ESPN recruiting analyst Dave Telep. “We also saw an uptick in his offense, which is why we put him at no. 1 in our rankings.”

While Noel has yet to play a college game, he has more than 19,000 followers on Twitter and a nickname “The Eraser” that refers to his shot-blocking prowess and the shape of his high-rise flat-top haircut.

The barber who cut the UK into Noel’s hair was a little torn about the attention his styling got on ESPNU.

“He didn’t tell me what he was getting until he got in my chair,” said James McDonald of Charlotte’s V.I.P. Barbershop. “I’m used to doing logos and things on people’s heads. A lot of people here get (Carolina) Panther logos. I was excited for him to get to play for a team of his dreams, but it was a little bittersweet for me to see my work messed up a bit (on TV) by his wearing a hoodie all day to keep it secret.”

His older brothers play Division I college football. Joe Noel will be a senior defensive back at Boston College this fall, and Rodman Noel will be a sophomore linebacker at North Carolina State.

Campus Rivalry: The passion and tradition of college basketball and football live here

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