Wizards to host Nerlens Noel on Saturday


Nerlens Noel, here reaching for the ball. (Associated Press)

Kentucky freshman center Nerlens Noel, the projected favorite to go No. 1 in the NBA draft, will meet with the Wizards on Saturday, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.

The Wizards have the third selection in the June 27 draft but are expected to be the second team to host Noel, who already met with the Orlando Magic on June 2 and will visit the Cleveland Cavaliers on June 20.

The 6-foot-11 Noel could become the third Kentucky player to go first overall in the past four NBA drafts, joining John Wall and Anthony Davis, after averaging 10.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and 4.4 blocks in his one season under Coach John Calipari.

But several scouts and executive have speculated that Noel could also slide. During the NBA combine in Chicago last month, Noel weighed in at 206 pounds and he is also recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, raising concerns about his durability and strength inside.

Cleveland and Orlando, which hold the top two picks, are both reportedly interested in moving out of their draft position. The Cavaliers could bypass Noel with the No. 1 pick to address a need for at small forward, while Orlando doesn’t necessarily have a need at center following the breakout campaign of Nikola Vucevic.

Noel has only able to make weekend visits with teams as he does rehab during the week from surgery under the supervision of famed orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, Ala. Noel said that he is working out twice-a-day for a total of five to six hours and hopes to be ready to play by Christmas.

Noel said last month that he is “100 percent confident” that he will be able to return to form.

“Through this period of time that I won’t be playing basketball, I’ll be working on some things that needed polish and will help me in the long run,” Noel said. “I feel like with modern medicine, I’m back stronger, just being who I am and working as hard as I do, I definitely feel that I’ll be able to be the player I’m expected to be, if not better. I’m taking it step by step.”

Andrews performed the surgery in March but recently told ESPN.com that the team that drafts Noel will have to “go slowly with him.” Noel’s trainer, Kevin Wilk, added that Noel is “well ahead” of schedule.

“We’re really happy with his progress,” Andrews told ESPN. “He’s several weeks ahead of schedule on his rehab. He’s improving on a weekly basis. He has a completely stable knee. The bone plugs are completely healed into the bone. His muscle and weight is returning. He has had no setbacks at all.”

Noel wants to be patient with his recovery. “As much as you want to be back, you want to be playing in the NBA as long as you can. And not have to be injured and have to go through all of this again. You want to build it up as strong as you can but when you know it’s there, then the mental aspect comes into it. And you have to come along in that regard. Mentally, it’s a big part of it. That’s what I feel.”

Noel’s visit will conclude a big week for the Wizards. UNLV freshman forward Anthony Bennett and Georgetown sophomore forward Otto Porter will also meet with the team. Bennett will arrive on Wednesday for a two-day set of meetings and Porter will come in on Thursday and work out for the team on Friday.

The Wizards were unable to meet with Noel at the NBA combine last month in Chicago because the shot-blocking big man only met with teams that had the greatest odds of winning the draft lottery. Washington then jumped five spots to the third overall pick.

Although the Wizards have also have interest in Indiana guard Victor Oladipo and Kansas guard Ben McLemore, they have yet to set up interviews and workouts with those candidates.

Michael Lee is the national basketball writer for The Washington Post.
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Michael Lee · June 10, 2013