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Nerlens Noel injury: Big man hopes to return around Christmas

Nerlens Noel says that his rehab from a torn ACL is ahead of schedule, and he hopes to return to the court around Christmas.

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Potential top NBA Draft pick Nerlens Noel continues to rehab diligently from a torn ACL and, though the big man told USA Today that while there's no rush to return, he hopes to be back on the basketball court by Christmas.

Noel tore his ACL in a Feb. 12 game against Florida, eventually having surgery on March 12 after the doctors could safely operate. The former Kentucky Wildcats standout recently moved to Alabama to be closer to his physical therapist and claims that he's already ahead of schedule:

"I'm feeling good," Noel says. "I'm still ahead of schedule with the things that I'm doing. It's usually about a seven- to eight-month injury timeline to returning. I'm just taking steps to get back. From when I got surgery, eight months would be probably around Christmas. It's probably November to Christmas. There's no rush. I'm just trying to get back."

Noel has received advice on how to deal with his injury from two other former Kentucky stars in Rajon Rondo and Derek Anderson. Rondo underwent ACL surgery a month before Noel and both had Dr. James Andrews perform their respective surgeries. Anderson tore his ACL while still at Kentucky, but was still selected early in the 1997 NBA Draft and was able to play 11 seasons in the NBA despite the injury.

Noel's injury likely won't affect his draft stock -- as most mock drafts still project him to go No. 1 to the Cleveland Cavaliers -- and even if the Cavs do decide to go elsewhere, it's hard to envision Noel slipping past No. 2 or No. 3.

Cleveland could be a perfect situation for Noel, as the Cavs already have Anderson Varejao and Tristan Thompson in place as the starting frontcourt. Noel could develop behind those two while regaining confidence in his knee and then, down the road, Varejao could be used as a trade asset.

Wherever Noel ends up, however, he has full confidence that he'll get past his knee injury and become one of the NBA's elite:

"I definitely feel that way," Noel says. "I know it will take a lot of work, but I definitely want to put the time and work in to be one of the top players in the NBA. That's a dream come true, and I'll definitely take advantage of it, so I definitely feel that I can become one of them and reach my full potential."

Noel will learn of his destination at the 2013 NBA Draft on June 27.

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