University of Kentucky freshman Nerlens Noel will enter the National Basketball Association draft as he continues to rehabilitate a torn knee ligament that ended his college season in February.
Projected by analysts, including ESPN’s Chad Ford, to be the top pick in the draft on June 27, Noel announced his decision today in a statement on the university’s athletics website. The 6-foot-10 forward had surgery two months ago to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.
“I have loved my time at Kentucky, but I feel that I’m ready to take the next step to the NBA,” Noel, 19, said in the statement.
Noel led the National Collegiate Athletic Association in shots blocked per game, with 4.4, and had 50 steals, the only player taller than 6-foot-5 to place in the top 30 in that category, the statement said. He also averaged 10.5 points and 9.5 rebounds per game.
Noel tore the ligament in a game against Florida after landing awkwardly on his left leg and running into the basket support.
Analysts from ESPN and basketball website Sheridan Hoops are among those projecting Noel to be the top pick in the draft, held on June 27 at Madison Square Garden in New York. The order for the top 14 picks is determined in a lottery next month.
The NBA’s age limit prevents players from going directly to the NBA from high school. Anthony Davis, the top pick in the 2012 NBA draft after one year with Kentucky, was guaranteed about $9.1 million over his first two professional seasons.
The Wildcats this season became the fifth defending national champion since 1985 to miss the NCAA tournament, going 21-11 and losing in the first round of the National Initiation Tournament. They have the country’s top-rated 2013 recruiting class, according to ESPN.
-- Editor: Jay Beberman