Greg Foster serving as mentor to Nerlens Noel

Greg Foster serving as mentor to Nerlens Noel
February 15, 2014, 5:00 pm
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Nerlens Noel, who is recovering from ACL surgery, has not played yet this season. (AP)

Brett Brown has invested a great deal of his time rebuilding Nerlens Noel’s shot.

He works with the rookie big man before every game, home or away. But Brown’s investment is just the tip of the iceberg.

Brown purposely added Greg Foster to his staff so that Noel would have a coach who had NBA experience at his position.

Foster had a 13-year NBA career. He played in the NBA Finals three times, once winning the championship. Ironically Foster’s ring came in 2001, when he wore a Lakers jersey and helped Los Angeles beat the Sixers in five games.

“I don’t think people understand his resume because he is extremely quiet and runs very silent,” Brown said of Foster. “He is not declaring it often. I wish the players called upon him far more frequently than they do. He has been there and done that. I hope Nerlens is asking a lot of questions and Spencer and Thaddeus too.”

There is basketball knowledge that Foster is trying to teach Noel, who has continued to make his way back from ACL surgery, but there are also intangibles of the game that the 45-year-old knows are essential.

Foster won’t give up on Noel grasping those concepts.

“I am a dinosaur,” Foster joked, having retired from the NBA in 2003. “I had an opportunity to play with guys that were great leaders. They didn’t lead with their mouths, they led by example. That’s what I talk to him [Noel] about. Are you ready to be a great leader by showing up every day and being the hardest worker? Because just talking about it doesn’t get it done.

“I think he understands that,” Foster continued. “And that is going to be my continuous challenge to him and Michael Carter-Williams. And then the rest of the role players have to fall in line.”

The leaders Foster played with are quite a list of who’s who. There was Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen; Karl Malone and John Stockton; Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. And among his coaches were two Hall of Famers in Jerry Sloan and Phil Jackson.

“I want my experience to mean something to them,” Foster said. “There is nothing like being with the guys everyday and interacting with them. They get to know you and they get confident in your ability. I am out there with them sometimes and we will play some one-on-one. I have always believed that is the best way to teach kids a post game.”

A post game has to be Noel’s bread and butter whenever he takes to the NBA hardwood. But Foster is quick to say they are not trying to reinvent the wheel.

“He is a work in progress,” Foster said of Noel. “My number one thing now is trying to hold him back. He is one to get ahead of himself sometimes. I think the main focus is giving him a go-to move on each block and maybe a counter. I don’t want to confuse him with anything else.”

Foster also reinforces what Brown has done with Noel’s foul shot. Foster, who like Noel is 6-foot-11, shot 74.8 percent at the line for his career. Foster knows the benefit of the foul line being your friend as opposed to a weakness.

“We want him whenever he is allowed to play to be confident at the free-throw line because I believe he is going to get fouled a lot,” Foster said. “Because he plays with a lot of athleticism and plays above the rim, he is going to take some hits and he has to be confident when he steps to the free-throw line.”

When the Sixers return from the all-star break they will have 28 games left to play. Noel has not practiced yet with his teammates and he has not played in any kind of five on five in more than a year. It is looking more and more likely that the sixth-overall pick from the 2013 draft will make his NBA debut next fall.

But at that time he will be a far more prepared rookie than his peers and he can thank Coach Foster in large part for that.

“If you are going to have some ups and downs, it's great to be around great guys and we have that,” Foster insisted.