By Mark Giannotto
Considered the favorite to be the No. 1 pick by the Cleveland Cavaliers, Noel could have potentially passed on visiting the Wizards and few would have blinked an eye. That, though, is not how the former Kentucky star is approaching the draft process.
“Anything can happen,” Noel said Saturday morning in the midst of a two-day visit to Washington. “I’m just fortunate enough to be here in this position, so I don’t have to have a handle on it at this point. … It’s a dream come true to even be in the discussion, so to actually be picked No. 1, I’d be very blessed and fortunate and definitely would just have to get right to work to exceed the expectations.”
Noel, 19, has had to overcome his fair share of obstacles in recent months. He came to
Kentucky last season as the No. 1 recruit in the nation, and through 24 games, looked every bit the dominating defensive force many predicted he would be coming out of Tilton High in Tilton, N.H. But on Feb. 12, Noel suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in a game against Florida, derailing his season and casting some doubt as to whether he was still the presumptive No. 1 pick this year.
With that in mind, Noel met with Washington’s front office over dinner Friday night and the team got an up-close look at how his surgically repaired knee has progressed. Though he did not participate in an on-court workout, Noel noted on Saturday that his target date for a return to full action remains November or December.
“I’m feeling great. It’s really coming along,” said Noel, who still appeared to be favoring his left knee as he walked through a Verizon Center hallway on Saturday. “Two-a-days are really paying off and I’m really starting to feel good. I’m starting to do some court work, defensive slides, some form shooting.”
The 7-foot Noel averaged 10.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and 4.4 blocks during his lone season playing for Kentucky Coach John Calipari, and he feels the experience gave him more “confidence and swagger.” His low-post game still needs refining, but Noel believes his passing ability is an overlooked talent.
A lifelong Boston Celtics fan, Noel said he would try to model his game after Kevin Garnett. A concern for some scouts, though, is Noel’s slight frame. He weighed just 206 pounds at the NBA draft combine last month, but said Saturday he’s now up to 218 pounds thanks to a new diet involving plenty of protein shakes and “three or four meals a day.”
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