Nerlens Noel was projected to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft before tearing the ACL in his left knee in a late-season game. The former Kentucky forward ultimately was selected sixth overall by Philadelphia but missed the entire 2013-14 season while recovering. Noel made his long-awaited return to the court Saturday in the Orlando Pro Summer League, scoring 19 points with two rebounds, three assists, four steals and one blocked shot in 26 minutes. He sat out Sunday’s game against the Thunder to rest.
Q: Were you nervous?
A: I was nervous at the beginning, but I seem to play a little better when I’m a little anxious. But I thought it went well. I’ll definitely continue working on my stamina and conditioning to sustain that for most of the game so I can be more active on rebounds and continuing to operate for my team.
Did getting a dunk on the first possession kind of do something for you?
Oh yeah, definitely. That definitely helped the jitters. It kind of just set the tone for the game. I was confident. I stepped to the free-throw line and knocked all of them down. I was just really feeling it. So I just kept it going.
Are you able to play without thinking about the knee at all at this stage? Are there any mental blocks?
Nah, no mental blocks. It’s been 18 months out. I haven’t been thinking about the knee for a long time now, many months. I’m definitely continuing to get it stronger, as strong as possible, and just continue working.
Coming out and playing, getting on the floor and being effective, is that validating?
Oh yeah, it’s very validating. It’s been 18 months since I played an organized game, and it felt great. I didn’t do as much as I wanted with rebounding and being active defensively. But that will come through as I build more stamina to be active in the game.
You seem calm, cool and collected, but you’ve got to be ecstatic after that performance after all this waiting.
Oh yeah, I’m real happy. But I can’t get too happy. It’s a long road ahead of me. I got to stay focused and keep working and get better and better. It’s no time to celebrate now.
You had a chip on your shoulder on draft night because of the teams that passed on you. Do you still have that after having missed a year?
I’m a Philadelphia 76er. I’m not focused about what happened on draft night. I’m going forward and just continue to grow as a player, person and as a leader for this team.
But will that still motivate you?
Yeah, it motivated me for rehab. But I’m here. I’m a 76er now. That’s all I’m focused on.