NCAA: Nerlens Noel out for season with ACL tear

Nerlens Noel
Nerlens Noel (3) is helped off the court after injuring his knee during the Kentucky-Florida game on Tuesday.

As the evening unfolded after University of Kentucky star freshman Nerlens Noel landed awkwardly after hustling down the court and blocking an attempted fast-break lay-up, everyone talking about his injury tried to keep things positive. Listening to commentators discussing the play, the potential injury, and how they hoped it was just a sprain; it was tough to keep it positive when watching the play over and over as it was obvious that his knee had bent in a direction that it’s just not supposed to bend. This is a kid that everyone likes. They like how he plays, they like who he is and they like what’s he’s done. Unfortunately, the 208 cm Noel was diagnosed with a torn Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear in his left leg that will require surgery to repair and six to eight months of recovery and rehabilitation.

Gone is the rest of his season. Gone is the NCAA tournament that Kentucky will most likely qualify for. Gone is the summer of workouts with NBA clubs looking to draft him. Gone will be what Noel has had most of his life to look forward to, time on the court, for a few months anyway.

Noel has been discussed as a likely lottery pick in this summer’s NBA draft. Numerous analysts and scouting services have placed him in the top five in the draft, some even rating him as the top prospect with his unique blend of size, quickness, and attitude. His team, the UK Wildcats, are the defending National Champions and Noel was a key player in their quest to return to the Final Four.

Does an ACL tear ruin his shot at the money a lottery pick brings? That remains to be seen, but with the advances that have occurred in how ACL injuries are treated and how they reconstruct the ligament if required, Noel should be ready to get back on the hardwood by the end of the year. With his positive attitude and well-documented work ethic, it’s a good bet he’ll still go high in the draft as someone along the way will figure he’ll do what is necessary to come back from such an injury. He’ll have surgery early in March, the draft will be held three months later on June 27 and he’ll probably be walking fairly well when his name is called to come up and get his picture taken with NBA Commissioner David Stern and representatives of his new team. As draft day approaches talk will be on his rehab work, the doctor’s reports on how well his surgery went and everyone will speculate on how he’ll come out of this.

The thing to remember is that, unlike another high-profile athlete that went through an ACL injury and came back to play recently (Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings), Noel is an 18 year old kid, who doesn’t turn 19 for another two months. He’s had to mature quickly in as a blue-chip athlete in a big-time program like Kentucky (defending National Champions), but he’s still an 18 yr old kid that has spent his life playing ball, dreaming of lacing up for a collegiate program, and then stepping on the court in front of an NBA crowd. He’s a kid with dreams that at the end of a hustle play that would make any coach proud, landed funny and had something tear in his knee. The consensus is that his dreams are alive and well, but until the surgery is over, the rehab is completed, and he laces up the kicks to hit floor for a real workout, no one knows what is in store for this young man. For the last few months he’s been in the spotlight and now he goes back to his roots, just him and his trainers, to get ready for the next challenge. This is an 18 year old kid that proved he can play with the best at the collegiate level and was a few months from making the step to the top of the ladder.

In response to the numerous well-wishers that sent him messages on Twitter, Noel responded, “Minor setback for a MAJOR comeback! I love you all and can’t thank y’all enough for the prayers.”

He’s done what it took to get to where he is was once, there’s no doubt he’ll do what it takes to get back there again. Noel has the fact that he stands 208 cm going for him for as the saying goes, you can’t teach height. Basketball is littered with big men with bum knees that were very effective around the hoop late in their careers, so a young pup with a couple of scars on one of his and the thoughts of an awkward fall in Feb. of ’13 will be a distant bad memory and a sidenote soon enough.

Does he end up as a top five pick? Absolutely.

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