By GARY B. GRAVES, AP Sports Writer
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Former Kentucky center Nerlens Noel’s injured knee is progressing well and he expects to make his NBA debut in December.
The 6-foot-10 Noel is recovering from a torn left anterior cruciate ligament, though that didn’t prevent the Philadelphia 76ers from acquiring the sixth overall pick by the New Orleans Pelicans in last month’s NBA draft.
“The knee feels great,” Noel said. “I’m just definitely staying after it, working hard, staying focused. As opposed to a timetable, I’m just (focused) on being careful, staying patient. I definitely want to come back a lot stronger than I was before.”
Another former Wildcat, Archie Goodwin, is looking to make a more immediate impact in the NBA. He had an impressive performance in his first action, helping the Phoenix Suns win the NBA Summer League title after the 29th overall selection’s pro potential was questioned before the draft.
Noel, Goodwin and fellow former Wildcats Julius Mays and Twany Beckham were back on campus Monday assisting Kentucky coach John Calipari’s pro camp for youth players.
Noel doesn’t figure to be an active participant in Calipari’s weeklong camp. But judging from his slow but smooth walk around Memorial Coliseum with his left leg wrapped, his recovery appears to be on track.
He doesn’t feel rushed to return and prove he should have been drafted higher. Noel said he has been working out six hours daily and is prepared to follow doctors’ orders about his recovery and return, whenever that is.
Projected as a lottery pick before he arrived on Kentucky’s campus last year as the nation’s top high school recruit, the Everett, Mass., native, remained high on many draft boards despite the February knee injury and long recovery. He was considered a possible No. 1 pick, so it was somewhat surprising when he fell several spots on draft night before the Pelicans chose him and eventually traded him to Philadelphia along with a 2014 first round pick.
Already motivated to come back from the injury, Noel said his slide down the draft order has merely provided more incentive to return.
“It’s something to wake up (to) in the morning and just keep me going,” said Noel, who led the nation with 4.4 blocks per game and averaged 10.5 points and 9.5 rebounds per contest. “It definitely will put fluid to my fire and wanting to get back and show teams what I’m capable of when I get back.”