It’s not surprising a smart guy like Noah Locke would find one of the best uses for his pandemic downtime of any athlete around.
The Baltimore basketballer, last seen plying that trade for the Florida Gators the last two seasons, took a step to further empower an already burgeoning game, albeit with something that makes him sound much older than his 21 years.
He had hip surgery.
“I was playing with an impingement the last two years, getting cortisone shots and playing through it,” he said. “Midway through my freshman year I started feeling some pain. I pushed through it the whole year and got a shot at the end of the year. The shot helped a lot and then I got another one, but doctors had trouble figuring out what [the problem] was.”
By the time Locke first started feeling the pain in 2019, he had moved in as a freshman starter and his jump shot was easing the Gators’ pain in a lineup that included three freshmen starters for the first time since late the last century. The 6-foot-3 McDonogh School product was second on the team with 9.4 points and fifth in the Southeastern Conference at 2.3 3-pointers made per game. He led Florida in 3-point shooting (37.9 percent) and poured in a school freshman record 81 total threes.
Those numbers went up last year – 10.6 points per game, 43.2 percent 3-point shooting and a whopping 48.1 percent in SEC play, where it shouldn’t be that easy. It was the highest 3-point percentage in the storied league in 25 years. And come to find out the former four-star recruit, McDonogh’s all-time scoring leader, was playing with somewhat of a Locke-step with that hip impingement.
“A lot of people play with it, a lot of athletes have it and don’t let it bother them,” he said shrugging off the feat like he shrugged off defenders around a screen. “It’s going great now. I got into rehab the day after surgery [May 13]. I’m probably going to be on crutches for another two weeks. I should be able to get back in rhythm pretty quick then.”
Basketball does come easy in the Locke family. Noah’s parents, Kyle and Vanessa, both played at Coppin State. Older brother Kayel is the sixth-leading scorer in UNC Greensboro basketball history and has played overseas the last couple of years, last season in Portugal. And younger sister Paris, a 5-foot-11 sophomore at McDonogh, could be the most highly recruited of the Lockes before she’s done.
She has a lot of the same traits as her brothers, especially the toughness Noah demonstrated playing through his injury.
“I get it from my mom and dad,” he said. “They both coach and played, and my dad has really stayed on me about being tough, being a competitor and finding ways to affect the game.”
“We were lucky that all our kids took a liking to the sport at an early age,” Kyle Locke said. “We didn’t push them. We allowed them to let us know naturally this was what they wanted to do. From there, we were in a position to kind of help the process as they grew.”
The older Lockes are still coaching Paris in AAU play, and there were lots of lessons to be learned in the backyard when Kayel, five years older than Noah, was around to play as well. All the Lockes can shoot, a trait passed down by both parents, and to hear Noah tell it, refined by just watching his elders.
“I picked it up watching my father coach my brother,” he recalled. “We were always in the gym every day [when his father was a women’s basketball coach at Coppin from 2004-2013]. It hurts now to not be able to get in a gym whenever I want.”
It also hurt then as a youngster when hunger pangs had to wait during early morning meetings while his father worked.
“We’d come up to the offices and tell [Dad] we were hungry, and he’d say, ‘One second,’ so we’d go back to the gym and shoot some more,” Noah laughed. “We make fun of him now for doing that to us, but it did make us better players.”
Noah Locke is still hungry.
He is hoping the surgery on his hip brings more athleticism back to his game.
“I’ve only dunked like twice [in college]. I want to get to the rim. And I just want to win,” Locke said. “Some of the stuff we’ve done the last two years, we messed up a lot by not being focused, and I don’t want to go through that anymore. I want everyone locked in to win.”
It should but can’t go without saying he wants to be a Locke-down defender with his 6-foot-8 wingspan, and he is already a team leader according to Florida head coach Mike White, who loves the way Locke energizes the squad.
“Noah gives these guys confidence,” he said near the end of last year’s 19-12, fifth-place SEC finish. “He’s as tough as anybody on our team so when he’s beating his chest after a big play it just spreads. He gives this team a certain level of swagger and sometimes we lack that.”
Locke’s competitive nature carries over to the classroom where he’s an honor student as an economics major. The many academic options in math were one of the draws he found at Florida. Well, that and winters there versus winters in Baltimore. Like basketball, math runs strong in the family, too. Mom and Dad were both naturals with numbers, pencils and paper like they were with a basketball, hardwood and a rim. Vanessa is a math teacher and it figures Noah took to putting up big numbers on and off the court.
He hit six 3-pointers against Vanderbilt last year and had three or more in 10 SEC games. He hit at least one in 24 straight games and had 15 games in a row with multiple triples, the best such run for a Gator ever.
With a healthier hip, that infectious big-play combustibility and a work ethic that moved him in as a starter as freshman, Locke will be a ringleader for a team that hopes to extend its defense, play faster offensively and continue a climb up the SEC standings.
“We were playing our best basketball at the end of year,” White said. “This team had confidence it was going to do some damage in the SEC tournament and NCAA Tournament.”
But then every college team’s hoops dreams were delayed. The timing could end up working well for Locke, who could be healthier than ever once 2020-21 tips off.
“I just want to continue to get better as a leader and continue to win,” Locke said.
Not surprisingly, Locke has done the math in his head: Healthy + More Experience = great season.
Photo Credit: Courtney Culbreath/Florida Communications