On Saturday night at the Smith Center, it was Noel who sank a three-pointer with 1.8 seconds left to preserve UNC’s 83-80 season-opening win over Gardner-Webb.
He called for the ball from Bobby Frasor, and once he got it, there was no hesitation.
"I knew Bobby was on the wing and I saw the guy who was guarding me was back in the paint, so I yelled Bobby's name and once Bobby got it to me I knew I was going to shoot it," said Noel, who finished with 17 points, five rebounds and three steals.
Carolina (1-0) didn’t even need a three, and earlier this week Roy Williams stated he’s not necessarily looking to Noel to fire it from long range.
And even though the shot needed every inch of the rim’s iron circumference to finally fall through, this was all about who wanted the ball in his hands at crunch time.
This time it was Noel, next time it may be Tyler Hansbrough or Reyshawn Terry or someone else. Absolute roles have yet to be established on this squad.
“It’s too early to talk about roles,” Williams said. “I mean, basketball develops. I’ve never known a coach in my life to say, ‘This is what you do and you don’t do anything else,’ because you restrict people.”
But at this early juncture of the 2005-06 campaign, Noel is the unequivocal leader of the team, not just for his defense or his offense, but what he brings to the club in experience and confidence.
Noel might not be able to do some of the things that Hansbrough or Frasor can do, but he has something none of his teammates have.
He’s been there. Terry, Byron Sanders, Quentin Thomas and Wes Miller also have NCAA title rings, but Noel is the only real veteran of prime minutes in hotly contested match-ups with the nation’s best teams -- the same type of games this team will be facing as early as a week from Tuesday when 17th ranked Illiniois invades Chapel Hill for the annual ACC Big Ten Challenge or when the Tar Heels travel to Lexington to face No. 9 Kentucky the following Saturday.
“He tries to defend, he tries to rebound, he tries to score, he tries to lead by example and he tries to lead verbally,” Williams said. “That’s what we need out of David Noel. He is doing a tremendous job of leading a bunch of kids who’ve never been through this before.”
Noel, a chiseled athlete that some believe passed on a potential NFL future as a wide receiver in order to pursue his dream of playing basketball, has always been an aggressive defender; yet he’s rarely done anything more offensively than simply let the game come to him.
“I’m just going to be me; that’s all I know how to be,” Noel said. “Hopefully my personality will come out a lot more this year. My leadership skills will be able to be shown a lot more this year. Some of the younger guys will watch how I play, how I run sprints and things like that. Hopefully they can pick up from that.
“A wise guy always told me that actions speak louder than words. That’s what I‘m trying to go by now.”
Williams said he expects nothing different from Noel in his final year of eligibility at UNC. In other words, Noel is a ‘go-to-guy,’ but will not be asked to look for his shot anymore this season than in year’s past.
“I can’t say to David, ‘Hey, I need you to go out and get 20 points or 10 rebounds or 11 deflections,” Williams said. “David has to play the whole game, and I think that fits his game better than trying to put him in a cubby hole and trying to say, ‘Now you go do this.’”
Still, Noel’s numbers will be up from previous years, if for no other reason he’ll be playing more minutes.
“It’s definitely a situation where I know – being the leading scorer, the leading returning rebounder and all that type stuff – I have to quadruple that this year to be effective in this conference and to help this team get the wins that we need to get.”
But first and foremost, Noel must be a leader.
“It’s a big challenge for David - he can’t just be concerned with how he is playing, he’s got to be concerned with how he’s playing and how everybody else is playing,” Williams said. “He’s a great youngster, one I’m enjoying immensely. But it is a challenge that he has to be looking at the whole big picture all the time.”