Nerlens Noel targeting Christmas return from ACL injury

USA TODAY Sports

Noel could be the No. 1 pick at the 2013 NBA Draft despite tearing his ACL in February.

Nerlens Noel, the projected top pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, will not be ready for opening night of his rookie season. Instead, he is aiming for a return around Christmas.

Noel tore his ACL back in February during a standout season with the Kentucky Wildcats. He underwent surgery and has spent the past few weeks rehabbing. He has yet to suffer any kind of setback in his recovery.

Some wondered if Noel would return to Kentucky after having his freshman campaign cut short, but after evaluating his draft stock, he determined he would continue his career in the NBA next season. Here is what he told Jason Lloyd of Ohio.com at the NBA Draft Combine on Thursday.

"Ever since the surgery, everything is going great," Noel said. "I'm 100 percent confident, not just getting back to what I was, but stronger. Going through this time not playing basketball, I'll just be working on things I need to polish. It will improve me in the long run."

Even with Noel not expecting to play the first two months of the regular season, it still seems likely whichever team lands the No. 1 pick this summer will take the lanky big man. This year's class lacks star power, according to most draft experts, but Noel's upside could make him a defensive stalwart in the league for many years to come.

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