Nerlens Noel will miss the remainder of the 2013 college basketball season after Kentucky announced on Wednesday that he had suffered a torn ACL. The school also announced that Noel will have surgery in the next two to three weeks, and will be out a minimum of six months.
Noel sustained the injury on Tuesday night in the Wildcats 17-point loss at Florida. ESPN's Andy Katz reported earlier that X-rays revealed no fractures in the leg, but Kentucky was still awaiting MRI results for potential ligament damage.
Noel was considered the likely No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, and would have been a high lottery pick last year right out of high school. But the NBA's age minimum requirement led him to enroll at Kentucky, where he was almost certainly a one-and-done. Noel was continuing to develop on the offensive end at the college level, but his defense and shot-blocking ability were certainly NBA-ready.
The injury occurred when the athletic big man hustled back in transition to block a Mike Rosario layup and his left knee violently collided with the basket support as he came down. He immediately went to the floor in pain and had to be helped off the court by his teammates, unable to put any weight on the leg. Noel was taken to a local Gainesville hospital, but the status of his injury was not updated on Tuesday night. After further evaluation back home, UK announced that his season was over with the torn ACL.
In nearly 32 minutes per game, Noel was averaging 10.5 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 4.4 blocks. He was the best player on a 17-7 Kentucky team that had just climbed back into the top 25 in the AP Poll. The Wildcats were already in bubble territory and a 9-seed in SB Nation's latest bracketology, but the loss of Noel obviously alters their hopes for the 2013 season. Willie Cauley-Stein, another freshman center who's had his own knee troubles this year, should see the biggest increase in minutes with Noel out.
The primary concern, of course, is Noel's health and status going forward. The injury is certainly a setback, but he's still an elite NBA prospect who will remain at the top of many draft boards as he recovers from the knee injury.