NCAA BK

Special Derby guest for Noel

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Sam Gardner

Sam Gardner is a general assignment writer for FOXSports.com. Originally from Orlando, Fla., he previously covered the Orlando Magic for FOX Sports Florida and has also covered the NBA Finals, Stanley Cup Finals and MLB playoffs. Follow him on Twitter.

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As the former star of the Kentuckybasketball team and a prospective lottery pick in this summer’s NBA Draft, Nerlens Noel is kind of a big deal in the Bluegrass State. So it’s no surprise that he was out walking the red carpet at Saturday evening’s Kentucky Derby.

His guest at Churchill Downs, however, was somewhat lesser known, but by no means less important -- especially once you get to know his story.

Seven-year-old Kelly Melton was diagnosed with leukemia in November and has undergone the first half of an aggressive nine-month chemotherapy treatment at UK Children's Hospital in Lexington during the past few months.

In that time, Melton has been visited by several Wildcats players and coaches, including Noel, first-year head football coach Mark Stoops, former free safety Martavius Neloms and junior defensive tackle Christian Coleman.

He was also honored at the UK spring game, where he was awarded the game ball in the locker room. But Melton, dressed in a sharp three-piece suit, a bow tie and a surgical mask, got his biggest thrill yet, as he accompanied Noel to the race, where Melton walked the red carpet, posed for photos and talked with reporters.

Melton’s Derby honor is the latest of several instances of college athletes and athletic programs reaching out to help kids in need.

In April, 7-year-old Jack Hoffman ran for a 69-yard touchdown in the Nebraska spring game ( and later met the president). East Carolina also gave a similar honor to an 8-year-old boy during their spring game, and Rutgers honored several children impacted by Hurricane Sandy.

As for Noel, who underwent surgery to repair a torn ACL in March, he told WKYT he sees Melton and the Kickin' it 4 Kelly charity as an inspiration to him, not the other way around.

Tagged: Kentucky, Nebraska

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