RACINE — As Nobal Days sat beside his father, Al, during their return flight from New Orleans Sept. 15, Nobal just had a feeling.
The 6-foot-9 senior forward for the Park High School boys basketball team had just visited Tulane University, the first of what he expected to be several recruiting visits. But he was seriously wondering if more visits were necessary.
"When we were leaving Tulane, Nobal was like, 'You know what? This might be it,'" Al Days said. "As a father, I'm like, 'OK, this was your first visit; they were very nice to us, but don't just be enamored with the very first visit.'"
But Nobal was. And after one more recruiting trip, this time to Cornell, Days decided that The Big Easy was in his heart to stay. Days made it official Thursday morning at Park's John Burns Theater, when he announced he would be playing for Tulane and signed his national letter of intent.
His coach will be former Milwaukee Bucks guard and head coach Mike Dunleavy, who went on to coach Magic Johnson and the Los Angeles Lakers to the 1991 NBA Finals against Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls.
What was it about Tulane that so captivated Days?
"It's hard to explain," said Nobal, who has a 4.1 grade-point average. "You just know it. It's like the cliché, 'You'll know it when it's right.' When I got down there, it felt just like at home. I felt like I could see myself in the system. I could see myself hanging out with the guys. I could see myself living in the city and doing the workouts.
"I just felt at home down there."
Days, who said his final three choices were Tulane, Wisconsin and Cornell among his 12 Division I offers, especially connected with Dunleavy, who is in his third season as coach of the Green Wave.
Prior to taking over Tulane's program, Dunleavy coached the Lakers, Bucks, Portland Trail Blazers and Los Angeles Clippers of the NBA from 1990-2010. Dunleavy played for the Bucks during the 1984-85 season and then from 1988-90. He went on to coach them from 1992-96.
"From being a player, from the coaching aspect, from being a general manager, all the perspectives he has from all the different levels of basketball, it's just a good tool to have on your side," Days said. "I'm going through this journey and trying to officially make it to the highest level I can make it to in basketball.
"Having him behind me with his connections and the drills and just the little tools and tricks he's learned in 30 years, which is longer than I've been alive, is really going to help me, I think."
Days averaged 6.8 points, 12.0 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 4.8 steals and 3.3 blocked shots in leading Park to a 21-5 record as a junior last season. But he played at only about 195 pounds last season.
Days added about 10 pounds of muscle during the off-season and is up to about 205, but he'll need to continue that weight training at Tulane to play at the major-college level.
Still, Days believes he may be able to contribute immediately instead of red-shirting during the 2019-20 season.
"I doubt if I'll be red-shirting, but I know it's going to be a challenge to get on the floor," he said. "They have a lot of good pieces who are coming in this year and others who will be coming back, so it will be a challenge to get on the floor.
"Hopefully, I can crack that seven-man rotation and see if I can get some playing time."
And if he does, Days will be playing a style of basketball he embraces.
"They like to push the pace and they play a lot of free-flowing basketball, which I like, too," Nobal said. "But they also have a structure to it, which something I can really benefit from."
Dunleavy, who was hired by Tulane March 28, 2016, appears to have the program headed in the right direction. After Tulane finished 6-25 in Dunleavy's first year, the Green Wave improved to 14-17 and have split their first two games this season.
Al Days was struck by how commanding Dunleavy was during their visit.
"When they were practicing and he stepped in to tweak something on the play, it was almost like instant respect," Al Days said. The ball stopped. Everybody stopped moving and there was a focus on him.
"Those players had respect for him. He had instant credibility. The one thing he said that kind of won Janet (Al's wife) and I over was, 'When Nobal gets down here, we're going to make him successful. We're going to make him successful on the court and we're going to make him successful in the classroom. And we're going to do everything where, in four years when he leaves here, he's either going to be playing basketball or with a degree where he can go get a marketable job.'"
Meanwhile, it's a relief for Nobal and Al Days that the recruiting process is over, and Nobal can concentrate on his senior season at Park.
"He had 12 official offers, and the pairing down of that was extremely tough because every school had uniqueness," Al said. "They were all great institutions. You can't beat your Ivy League schools that are academically great.
"We tried to guide him a little bit, but Nobal did it all himself."
Signing the letter
On Thursday, students filled the theater at Park High School to learn for themselves where Days was going.
Normally students aren't allowed to take their phones out during the school day, but the faculty made an exception for the announcement.
Days thanked his supporters and his teammates for helping him to get to this point, and he even thanked the schools that recruited him.
"Just the time and effort that it takes to recruit one person and give them your all ... it's a lot for all schools," Days said. "I just want to thank them for having the vision of me playing at their school."
Days had his grandmother bring him a box with a Tulane hat on the inside. He opened the box and put on the hat revealing to his classmates where he planned to play next year, and the crowd erupted into cheers.
As Days signed his letter of intent to Tulane, his dad raised both fists in the air in celebration of the moment.