Al Nolen was fun to watch. A true floor general, Nolen was always a pass-first, shoot-maybe point guard. On defense, he was tasked with defending the opposing team’s best guard. He fit Tubby Smith’s lockdown defense and fundamentals-first mentality to a T. And it served him well. He finished his four-year career with the fourth-most assists and third-most steals in Gopher history.
His numbers weren’t eye-popping, but they revealed few weaknesses. When Nolen was on the floor you knew things were under control, and he was one of the faces of the promising Tubby Smith teams of the late aughts.
For those that may remember, Nolen was ruled academically ineligible for the second half of the 2009-10 season, which was a blow to that year’s team. However, it was that experience that set him on a path to education.
After graduation he initially signed with the NBA’s D-League, playing for about half a year for the Erie Bayhawks. Displeased with life in the developmental league, Nolen chased professional basketball overseas, playing a half season in Germany before signing a contract with a team in the Czech Republic.
Culture shock was a real thing, and homesickness set in after a while. And before long the idea of playing basketball was less about passion and more about making money. It was time for a career change.
So he moved back. He finished off his degree in business and marketing and got a job as the dean of students at Anthony Middle School in Minneapolis. From there he took on some coaching responsibilities, reuniting with his old coach from his high school days and bringing his zest for helping the next generation at Brooklyn Center High School.
By 2018 he was studying to get his master’s to get a principal’s license and was mentoring sophomores at Park Center High School in Brooklyn Park.
A product of north Minneapolis’ Patrick Henry High School, Nolen has found his footing as a strong voice in the community and an advocate for giving back. His grandfather succumbed to COVID-19 and he felt the impacts of the George Floyd protests directly, as outlined in a recent feature with Mike Max.
Today he’s taken the position of dean of students at Park Center as he continues his trajectory up the education ladder. And as he further establishes himself as an educator, he looks forward to starting a non-profit that focuses on youth advocacy in underprivileged areas.