When it’s comes to basketball, Brandon Noel always has tried to match his mom and then go a little bit farther.
That was always a good approach for the 6-foot-8 Wright State forward until this last time when it involved an ACL injury and what’s been a two-year recovery.
But to fully appreciate Noel’s return to the game this season – in his third year at WSU, this will be his first actually on the court – you need to know how it all began.
Melinda Noel raised Brandon, her only child, as a single parent, first on a 20-acre farm outside of Lucasville and then in Chillicothe.
A basketball standout at Lucasville Valley High who went on to play at Walsh College, she taught the game to her young son.
“We had a basketball court at our farm,” she said. “We concreted the driveway and we’d play out there all the time.”
She could be demanding. She said she’d tell him he had to make 100 shots before he could go inside. He’d counter and tell her he’d made 50 and that was good enough, but she was adamant.
“Almost all the arguments we ever had were on the basketball court,” she laughed. “He’s stubborn and I am, too.”
Brandon remembered how their hoop sessions changed over the years:
“When I was real little, we’d play 1-on-1, but eventually I got too old and too big and we quit doing that. But I’d shoot and she rebound for me and sometimes we played HORSE.”
When asked how those encounters turned out, he just laughed as if to underscore that idea of him matching – then outdoing – Mom.
When he got to high school, eclipsing her became more difficult. “From what I’ve heard, back in the day, Mom was a pretty good player,” he said. “I know she scored 1,000 points at Lucasville Valley.
“That’s the thing I aimed for – to beat her point total in high school. It was a fun thing. We used to joke about it.”
Playing a season at Lucasville Valley and then Chillicothe High, he eventually scored 1,116 points.
“I think she had 1,090 points,” he said. “I just edged her in my last games.”
Melinda got All-Ohio special mention honors in 1983.
Brandon was named first team, All-Ohio Division I as a senior.
His mom went to Walsh, an NCAA Division II school in North Canton.
Although several D-II schools were interested in him, he wanted to play Division I basketball, but got no offers until he got an assist from former Wheelersburg High coach Steven Ater, who’d coached Tanner Holden who went on to become the star of the Wright State teams the past two seasons (and since has transferred to Ohio State.)
“Coach Ater helped us out,” Melinda said. “He talked to Clint Sargent (WSU associate head coach) about Brandon.
“Coach Sargent came out and saw what other people hadn’t seen. He believed in Brandon all along.”
Wright State gave Brandon his only D-I offer and it was good fit for both sides.
He’d ended up at a school close to home, that has a successful basketball program and the science courses he needed as a chemistry major.
Wright State got a talented 6-8 inside presence, a player head coach Scott Nagy now says “might be the most talented guy on our team, though he doesn’t really know it yet.”
Part of this uncertainty might link to another situation where he followed suit on mom.
A few years ago in the offseason, Melinda said she and Brandon were in the gym in Piketon when she attempted something they both now wish she had not.
Brandon had just done a workout sprint using a restraining band he put around his waist while a trainer held onto the other end to provide drag.
“I got the bright idea that I could hold him back with one of those straps when he tried to run,” Melinda said.
“I was like, ‘OK Mom, let’s do this together!’” Brandon recalled. “We tried and it probably lasted a minute or two before it happened. It was pretty unfortunate.”
“On the first trip, as he was pulling me, I tore my ACL,” Melinda said.
Melinda said the doctor told her it looked as if she’d torn the ACL years earlier and his just aggravated it.
Fast forward a few years from that injury and Brandon was at one of his first Raiders practices in the fall of 2020.
He retold the story Tuesday, exactly two years to the day after it happened:
He was going one-on-one against James Manns.
“There was no contact at all,” he said. “I took a dribble and tried to turn and do a fade-away. That’s when my knee just buckled and I laid out right then and there.
“I’d torn my ACL.”
Melinda’s college career took a nearly deadly detour after another knee injury.
She said she began using an anti-inflammatory pain medication that allowed her to play. But she said after a month, she woke up one morning in major distress:
“I realized the I was allergic to the medication. My whole body was swollen. My throat was swollen shut. My eyelids were swollen to my eyeballs. It was terrible.
“I ended up in the burn unit of Akron Children’s Hospital for probably two months. They weren’t sure if was gonna make it.
“That was the end of my college basketball. But I was more grateful to be alive than worry about playing college basketball again.”
Brandon’s ACL injury – while minus the side-effect drama — came with definite physical and mental challenges for him he said.
He said Dr. Matt Lawless, the orthopedic surgeon who is WSU’s team physician, repaired his left knee and in the process used a patella tendon from his right knee.
“The idea was by taking the tendon out of my right knee instead of the left, it would separate the healing process and wouldn’t be so hard on one knee,” Brandon said.
Although his rehab was painful, he never missed a class his mom said and was cleared to play in the summer of 2021. Instead, he was redshirted again.
“He was still coming off that injury and we felt it wasn’t worth playing him last year in terms of the minutes he’s get,” Nagy said. “It wasn’t an easy decision for us or him, but looking back at it now he’s in a pretty good spot.”
Brandon spent last season on the scout team, often going against Grant Basile in practice.
Melinda said Basile especially took her son under his wing and Brandon said the rest of the players and the coaches buoyed him as well, though the two-year hiatus still was “rough.”
“The only time I wore my uniform the past two seasons was on picture day,” he said. “And I’d take it off right after that.”
For two seasons he sat at the end of the bench in street clothes,
It helped that his mom and Aunt Ruthie Dorkoff came to almost all the games, not just at the Nutter Center, but on the road to places like Purdue and Florida.
“We felt he needed that support,” Melinda said. “We’re a basketball family – that’s what you do.”
Brandon will be in uniform when the Raiders open their season Nov. 9 again Davidson at the Nutter Center.
“Even though this is my third year at Wright State, it’s been sooo long since I’ve been on the court, going all the way back to Chillicothe,” he said. “So I know I’m definitely going to be a little nervous. But I think it’s good have some nerves.”
Melinda said she figures her son is apprehensive, but he’s gotten glimpses of the possibilities recently.
She said this summer he played in an open gym with Obi Toppin and some NBA G-League players and “realized he can play with those guys.”
Nagy sees real promise, too: “He’s 6-8 and 235 pounds and moves like a guard. He can shoot it. There really isn’t much he can’t do. But the big deal for him is just to gain confidence.”
Melinda said she wouldn’t have admitted it a year ago, but now she believes the two-year exile has benefitted her son: “He’s more mature. He’s bigger. He’s a lot stronger and he’s better.”
With that I mind, you wondered how she’d fare against him now in those games of HORSE. After all, when he was asked about those past challenges, Brandon never did give a straight answer.
“Well, I had some crazy shots, even when I played in college,” Melinda said. “And I was always very aggressive on the court. When we played HORSE, I always thought I was going to win and Brandon always thought he would win.
So who did win?
She laughed and said:
“I’m not allowed to tell the answer to that question.”