First-year Southern Durham basketball coach David Noel is starting down a path his mentor and former coach Roy Williams knows very well.
Noel, who played for Williams at North Carolina and helped the Tar Heels win the 2005 NCAA national title, is starting his coaching career almost at the bottom rung. But Noel said that’s the path he wanted to take. It worked for Williams, who began his hall of fame coaching career at Charles D. Owen High in Black Mountain.
“Coach Williams got his start in high school,” Noel said. “He believes that’s the best place to start. I am excited about getting my start at Southern.”
Noel was hired this summer to succeed Kendrick Hall, who resigned after leading the Spartans for five seasons and taking them to a pair of Big Eight tournament titles and a regular-season championship. Now Noel is back at Southern after 15 years away from the school.
Before the opportunity at Southern arose, Noel said he thought he was going to try to land in college for his first coaching gig.
“It was crazy,” Noel said. “Like honestly, I wanted to go to college. And then, the dominoes start falling into place. The former coach ended up resigning. And so the school contacted me about interviewing for the job or applying for the job.”
He accepted the job offer and rejoined the Southern community. But Noel is much more than the Spartans’ new coach. He’s also making a difference in the classroom. He’s teaching history at the school. He said being in the school walking the halls again has brought back a lot of great memories.
“It is full circle for me,” Noel said. “It’s where it all started. And now to be back in the gym to try to push the next generation to get to where I’ve been in my career, I’m excited. I can’t wait.”
Noel played football and basketball at Southern. As a senior, he was all-conference on the hardwood after averaging 17 points, eight rebounds, four assists and three steals per game. Noel was recruited to play football for the Tar Heels, but he ended up walking on to UNC’s basketball team. It turned out to be a great decision.
It’s one that helped the Tar Heels win the national title in 2005. Williams said having Noel on the team was a steadying force that provided the Tar Heels an anchoring personality.
“My first three years here at North Carolina I think he was just as important as any player we had,” Williams said. “And he didn’t get the accolades.”
Sean May was the MVP of the regional and also at the Final Four in 2005 when Noel was a junior. Then as a senior with the Tar Heels rebuilding, Noel was sort of the elder statesman on a team that included freshmen Tyler Hansbrough, Danny Green and Marcus Ginyard, who later would win their own national title in 2009.
“But David was extremely important to our team that won the championship in ’05,” Williams said. “And then in ’06, it was maybe the best leadership that I’ve ever seen one individual have in my entire coaching career because we had lost everybody from the championship team.”
Noel was drafted No. 39 overall by the Milwaukee Bucks in the 2006 NBA draft. He played one season for the Bucks before playing in the NBDL and then overseas.
He said those experiences have broadened his knowledge of the game.
“Everything that I’ve learned came from one particular fountain,” Noel said. “I was able to pick from multiple fountains whether that’s a Roy Williams or Larry Krystkowiak or Philippe Herve from overseas. I’ve been able to pool from so many different fountains that I have my own mix. So I think it’s definitely going to be beneficiary for the kids not only but also for me as a coach.”
When Noel’s playing career was winding down last season with Cholet Basket, a European professional team in Cholet, France, he was already thinking ahead to his next career move.
“I was in a place where I knew I wanted to do something,” Noel said. “I knew I wanted to coach. I just didn’t know where. And when this opportunity presented itself and then I actually got the job, I was shocked but also excited and thankful at the same time.”
He sought advice from Williams during this time, he said.
“I know being a coach is something completely different from being a player,” Noel said. “For me to be able to learn under a guy like Coach Williams, and for him to be able to learn under one of the greatest of all time in Coach (Dean) Smith, this is something amazing. There is so much knowledge that has trickled down to me. Throughout this process he’s been excited for me, and I’m excited for the opportunity. I just hope things just work out where I can represent them and the knowledge that they passed on to me.”
Williams definitely knows what Noel is about to experience. Williams coached in high school for five years.
“There’s no question I felt just as much if not more stress as a high school coach,” Williams said. “It was the internal stress I was putting on myself because people in Durham didn’t know how my team was doing in Black Mountain, North Carolina. But I knew how we were doing and I think David will feel some of that stress. He’ll have some adversity.
“He’ll handle it, and he’ll grow. He’ll handle it better with each and every day that goes by what he’s going to be teaching the game that he loves to his high school players.”
Noel said he’s already had some nervous moments.
He said his heart was pounding a little harder when the Spartans scrimmaged Panther Creek and again when they opened the regular season at Broughton.
Noel has joined an expansive club of former UNC players who have gone into coaching. It’s a club that reaches from the high school ranks all the way to the pros. Williams said his best advice for Noel was to have fun as a coach.
“Coaching is fun,” Williams said. “I try to tell them how much fun I’m having, tell them how much I love it and hope that if they have that desire, it’s something that they can do themselves.”