Tuscarora High School graduate Obe Noel enjoyed a stellar season with the University of Massachusetts Lowell men’s basketball team this winter.
The junior guard set a career high for points in a game, only to top it later. He averaged 18.2 points a game. And he showed a penchant for dishing off assists and grabbing rebounds.
Even for a player who’s shown constant improvement throughout his career, Noel took his game to another level. Now, he wants to find out if he’s ready to play at the next level.
Last week, Noel decided to test the waters of the 2020 NBA draft, entering his name in the draft while retaining his college eligibility.
“I’m just hoping to find out what NBA teams are saying about me and hope to get some workouts before the deadline,” he said. “I’ve still got my eligibility. It’s basically just a way to get evaluated, get some feedback and get a good feel for it.”
Noel hired an agent, Austin Walton, who is NCAA-certified. Hiring NCAA-certified agents allows players to retain college eligibility as they go through the draft process.
But this year, the pre-draft process is fraught with uncertainty because of the coronavirus pandemic-related shutdown of sports.
Normally, NBA hopefuls like Noel could attend workouts to be evaluated, and a firm deadline is set for players to withdraw their names from the draft. But workouts for prospects have been canceled because of the health crisis.
“Everything’s shut down right now, so obviously I’m not going to be able to have workouts,” Noel said.
The NCAA deadline for underclassmen to withdraw their names from the draft pool is June 3, according to hoopsrumors.com. But that date was part of a pre-draft calendar that assumed the draft would be held on June 25. If the draft is delayed, that deadline might change.
When asked about all the uncertainty, Noel said, “I’m just staying ready. You never know what can happen.”
If Noel does get a chance to participate in workouts, he’ll be in good shape.
“I go outside, shoot at the local courts,” said Noel, who is back in Frederick County. “I go on jogs, do push-ups, I’ve got some weights in the house. I’m just trying to do whatever it takes.”
Before sports came to a halt, Noel lit it up for UMass Lowell, which competes in the America East Conference. The 6-foot-4, 190-pound guard averaged 18.2 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.7assists.
Noel attributed such numbers to work he put in last summer. He worked out at the Hoops Zone, at Tuscarora High and at Mad Fitness.
“A lot of people helped me,” said Noel, adding that he also worked out with his brother.
A desire to improve is nothing new for Noel. It was present when he played at Tuscarora, where he earned Frederick News-Post Player of the Year honors as a senior after transferring from St. John’s Catholic Prep.
“He’s the type of kid that just constantly stays on the grind, no days off, he’s just always wanted to get better,” Titans coach Darryl Whiten said. “And he was never satisfied with his performance because he could always do better. He always wanted to be pushed.
“He was the type of player, he would be the first one in the gym and he’d be the last one to leave,” he said. “There were many a times when he wanted to stay after practice and continue to put shots up.”
With the Titans as a senior, Noel averaged 22.4 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.5 assists. He set a single-game records for points (41) and 3-pointers made (eight) and hit 61 treys for the season.
As a freshman at UMass Lowell, Noel made the American East all-rookie team. As usual, he continued making strides in his game, and a physical change helped him deal with the physicality of college hoops.
“I put on a lot of weight,” he said. “I was very skinny in high school.”
That weight didn’t wreck his jumper, though. In fact, he worked on improving that weapon no matter how successful he already was with it.
“I had to learn how to get my shot off quicker, when to shoot, right times to shoot,” he said.
Not that scoring was his only focus. While he was utilized mostly as a shooting guard his junior season, Noel possesses a versatile skill set, which includes a passing ability that allows him to get teammates involved.
His sophomore season was solid enough. He averaged 14.6 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game. But his production ramped up considerably this past season.
One of Noel’s biggest games came at UMBC, where he scored 27 points — a career high at the time — with 25 coming in the second half. Playing in front of plenty of friendly faces in his home state made that game all-the-sweeter.
“All of my family came out, the whole Tuscarora High School basketball team came out,” said Noel, who helped the River Hawks win that game in overtime.
He topped that career-high against Stony Brook on Feb. 5, finishing with 31 points along with 10 rebounds.
He didn’t wilt against big-time teams, either, scoring 15 against Ohio State and 16 against Michigan.
Whiten has followed Noel’s collegiate career. He still sees the same disciplined player, the one who refused to cut corners when doing drills in practice, the one who asked questions during film sessions in hopes of improving.
“The sky’s the limit,” Whiten said of Noel. “He has tremendous upside, he’s a very humble, gracious individual.”