Written for nbl.com.au by Liam Santamaria
Cairns Taipans rookie Kouat Noi believes he’ll have a major impact on the NBL right out of the gate.
The versatile forward has made it clear that he’s not messing around when it comes to his debut professional season, declaring himself the best rookie to enter the NBL in over a decade.
Noi, who turned pro back in May after two years at Texas Christian University (TCU), is expected to start and play major minutes for the Taipans this season.
And the 21-year-old is not shy when outlining his plans for his first year in the league.
“I’m going to make a statement to everybody and let them know that I’m here and they’re going to recognise it,” Noi told NBL Media.
“For me coming in, I think I’m going to win the Rookie of the Year.”
It’s a big call, especially in a season when a bunch of exciting first-year players will be strutting their stuff on the NBL stage. Some of those, of course, include fellow NBA hopefuls like New Zealand’s RJ Hampton and Illawarra’s Sam Froling.
When offered those names, however, Noi was emphatic in his response.
“I’m not worried about them,” he said.
In fact, Noi is even happy to take his declarations a step further. He believes his impact during the upcoming season will be greater than anything we’ve seen from a first-year pro in the NBL for some time.
“I really think I’m the best rookie to come in since Joe Ingles,” Noi stated.
Ingles, who recently completed his fifth year with the NBA’s Utah Jazz, splashed onto the professional scene as a teenager for the South Dragons during the 2006-07 NBL season, averaging 15 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists per game.
His debut came amidst a golden age for NBL rookies, when he, along with fellow future Boomers Brad Newley, Mark Worthington and Nathan Jawai, all emerged in consecutive years.
It must be said, Jawai was a beast in 2007-08 – the year after Ingles debuted. The Taipans star put up 17 points and 9 rebounds per game that year, claiming ROY, All-Star Game MVP and All-NBL Second Team honours on his way to the NBA Draft.
So…. to prevent the potential for awkward moments at Taipans practice this season should the Snakes eventually re-sign Jawai (as they’re expected to do), let’s presume Noi really means ‘the best rookie since Jawai’.
That is, itself, a fascinating call.
For reference, here’s the list of Rookie of the Year recipients since Big Nate in 2008: Aaron Bruce, Jesse Wagstaff, Ben Madgen, Anatoly Bose, Cam Gliddon, Tom Jervis, Angus Brandt, Nick Kay, Anthony Drmic, Isaac Humphries and Harry Froling.
Of those, four averaged double-figure points in their rookie season; Bruce (10 points and 5 assists per game), Madgen (10 points & 3 rebounds), Bose (15 and 6) and Kay (10 and 6). Others, such as Froling last year, made a considerable impact while not necessarily posting big-time numbers.
So, will Noi out-perform all of those guys? Truth is, he actually might. After all, the kid is very, very talented and with his size, strength and versatile skillset, he presents as an intriguing NBA prospect.
For those who haven’t seen him play, Noi describes himself as a mix between NBA players Khris Middleton and Luol Deng, with a little bit of Kevin Durant sprinkled in.
“Just that long, fast guy who runs the lane, rebounds and attacks the rim,” Noi said.
— NBL (@NBL) July 4, 2019
After averaging 14 points and 5 boards per game as a sophomore last season at TCU, Noi made the decision to turn pro. He was an early candidate for this year’s NBA Draft but eventually withdrew, maintaining his eligibility for the 2020 draft.
It’s a situation that makes his upcoming season in Far North Queensland even more important.
One of Noi’s big challenges this season will be transitioning from power forward, which he mostly played at TCU, to small forward, the role he’ll need to play as a pro.
And in a league full of elite wings – guys like Casey Prather, Mitch Creek and Terrico White – there will be very few nights off for the Newcastle-native at either end of the floor.
“I’m excited because it’s going to be high-level competition every game,” Noi said.
“I’m looking forward to it. I’m working and they’re working too. We’re just going to have to see.”
One thing’s for sure: Noi’s signing has been the highlight of the Taipans’ off-season thus far and the youngster can’t wait to reward the Snakes, particularly head coach Mike Kelly, for the faith they’ve shown in him ahead of his first professional campaign.
“I feel like this season’s going to be a stepping stone to put Cairns back on the map,” Noi said.
“The fans are going to be very excited to watch us play and we’re just going to bring a lot of energy… it’s going to be very exciting and it’s going to be a show every night.”