Noel, who is currently recovering from surgery to a torn ACL, led the nation with 4.4 blocks per game and averaged 10.5 points and 9.5 rebounds. He also had 50 steals, which earned him Southeastern Conference defensive player of the year honors.
“I’ve learned so much here at UK and am thankful for coach (John) Calipari, the staff and my teammates for all of their support,” Noel said in a statement. “I especially appreciate the Big Blue Nation and all of the support, prayers and well-wishes I’ve received from them during my rehab and decision-making process. I’ll always be a Wildcat!”
The 6-foot-10 freshman will now join Wildcats guard Archie Goodwin in the NBA draft. Noel was the nation’s top recruit last year, which headlined a recruiting class that included Goodwin, forward Alex Poythress and center Willie Cauley-Stein. Noel was the only freshman that was consistent all year long.
Noel is currently the No. 1 draft prospect ahead of Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart, Kansas’ Ben McLemore and Georgetown’s Otto Porter.
“I support Nerlens’ decision to enter his name in the draft and am excited for him and his future,” Calipari said in a statement. “The hard work and will to win he showed on the floor this year and the dedication and attitude he has shown in his rehab will only be a reward for him and whatever team drafts him in June.”
The Wildcats entered last season as the consensus No. 1, but quickly plummeted out of the Top 25 even with a healthy Noel. But after Noel’s Feb. 12 knee injury at Florida, the Wildcats missed the opportunity to earn an at-large NCAA tournament bid.
Kentucky went 4-5 without Noel, ultimately missing the NCAA tournament after winning it all in 2012. The Wildcats were the first team since the 2009 national champion North Carolina Tar Heels, to miss the tournament the following year after winning it all. They eventually lost a first-round NIT game at Robert Morris.