Despite his dominance on the hardwood, Noel was initially noticed and recruited by UNC to play football. But within his first year on North Carolina's campus, the then 6-foot-6, 216-pound athlete walked onto the Tar Heel basketball team.
And now, over a decade after the end of his four-year career at North Carolina — which included a national championship in 2005 — and professional stints in Spain, France, and Slovakia, Noel took the chance to come back.
“To be frank and honest, I thought I wanted to do college coaching,” Noel said. “But when this opportunity presented itself, it was just hard to turn down. I’m just thankful that (assistant coach) Len Curington and Ms. Massenburg gave me the opportunity to not only come back, but to be a part of a program that I was a part of for so many years.”
The hiring process
From the get-go, Noel knew there would be stiff competition for the position. He was one of more than 40 applicants the school considered.
“We thought long, hard and went through the process interviewing multiple applicants,” Southern athletic director Crystal Massenburg said. “Me and Mr. Len sat down and thought really hard about everything. We both agreed that David was the perfect fit for our program.”
Noel gladly accepted the position and fully acknowledges he’s a novice to coaching.
“It could’ve definitely been a deterrent but they believed in me,” he said. “I’m going to try to make the most out of the opportunity.”
Massenburg, who also attended UNC, said the athletic department is ecstatic to have Noel in the program.
“David has hit the ground running,” Massenburg said. “He has lots of ideas and is not afraid to ask questions. We are here to support him 110 percent.”
Glimpses of nostalgia
Noel sat in his new office with a humble presence. The school had changed. The wall paneling was a new color. And the desk that’s now his? He sat on the other side of it years ago.
“It’s surreal,” Noel said. “Just watching the kids walk up and down the hallways. It feels similar, but it definitely feels different.”
Noel said his inspiration to coach stems from the impact his previous coaches — Levi Beckwith at Southern Durham and Roy Williams at UNC — had on his own basketball career.
“I want to be able to help young men get the potential out of them that is locked deep inside at times,” he said.
As a new coach, Noel is beginning to understand the workload that he has to take on for his team. Noel pointed out that as a player he never realized how much his coaches did behind the scenes.
“It’s definitely something strenuous, but also enjoyable and fulfilling,” Noel said.
The team is in rebuild mode now since they lost a few players in the last two years, Noel said.
Noel thanked the previous coach Kendrick Hall for the job he did and plans to continue the program by adding some changes.
“The coaching is going to change a little bit,” Noel said. “I’m going to bring something to the table these guys may not have seen before. I’m going to ask a little more out of them than they may be used to (so they can) unlock their potential.”
Curington said their focus is going to be keeping the players in top physical condition and making sure the team plays hard together.
“We won’t rely on one or two people to shoulder the load,” Curington said. “I think it’ll be a positive thing to make a cohesive unit that relies on each other and not one or two individuals."
Noel said he wants to push his players to be the best they can be because it can create opportunities. Noel recently reached out to universities along the East Coast, letting them know about his new position and the program to see if any interest sparks with recruiters.
“Hopefully we’ll have a revolving door of coaches coming in,” Noel said.
In his first year coaching at any level, the former Tar Heel captain may not have a championship on the horizon. But Noel has proven he can adjust to whatever he’s thrown.
Whether that’s deciding to play college basketball over football — or returning to his old high school stomping grounds to coach — Noel plans to get the most out of his players, just like his high school and college coaches previously got the most out of him.
And he can proudly say he’s home to do it.