Nerlens Noel, Kentucky’s freshman center who was projected as the No. 1 pick in June’s NBA draft by many league observers, tore the ACL in his left knee Tuesday night in Florida, throwing the Wildcats’ season and his immediate future into question.
Noel’s 6-foot-10 frame crumbled to the floor when he landed awkwardly after blocking a shot from behind with just over eight minutes left in the Gators’ 69-52 win. He lay on the floor writhing in pain as his teammates and Kentucky followers held their collective breath.
But it did not look good when teammates had to carry him off the floor. Losing Noel is a significant hit to the Wildcats (17-7, 8-3 SEC), who now trail Florida (20-3, 10-1) by two games in the SEC standings. Noel leads the nation in blocked shots (4.5 per game) and averages 10.6 points per game and is second in the SEC in rebounding (9.6 per game).
“I met with Nerlens,” coach John Calipari said in a statement Wednesday. “The meeting was really positive, and I loved his attitude. The way he is already dealing with this injury lets me know that he is going to come back stronger than ever.”
Some have feared that Noel’s injury may have cost him millions as he had been projected to be a Top 5 pick in this year’s NBA draft had he elected to leave early. Calipari, however, dismissed that notion.
“The good news is he is insured,” Calipari said, “so he would have been fine even if the injury would have been worse. Obviously this is not a career-ending injury and it’s one that athletes bounce back from all the time.”
It is highly unlikely Noel will enter the draft now, as many suspected he would. He must rehab and play next season to prove to NBA teams he is healthy.