Kentucky star Nerlens Noel is out for the season after tearing his ACL in Tuesday's game against Florida, the school announced Wednesday. Noel tweeted shortly after the news became public.
Minor setback for a MAJOR comeback!I love you all and can't thank y'all enough for the prayers.
— Nerlens Noel (@NerlensNoel3) February 13, 2013
Noel, a shot-blocking star, was one of the nation's top freshmen. The 6-foot-10 forward was also expected to be one of the top picks in this summer's NBA Draft. Now, his immediate future seems uncertain.
Noel hurt his knee with 8:03 left in the second half of the loss to Florida. He collapsed to the ground, screaming in pain, after blocking a layup. (See the play on this video).
"His leg was wobbly, knee looked dislocated," Florida center Patric Young said after the game. "It was gruesome. I don't want to think about it."
Noel was averaging 10.5 points and 9.5 rebounds per game this season. He was raw but showed the potential to be a dominant defensive player. He blocked 12 shots in a win over Mississippi in late January.
Kentucky, which struggled early in the season as it broke in a new batch of freshman, had come together recently. The Wildcats were on a five-game winning streak before the loss to Florida. The team had moved back into the polls at No. 25.
Losing Noel for the season could affect Kentucky in its fight for an NCAA Tournament bid. The Wildcats seemed to have moved into position for an at-large selection in the past two weeks, but the team must hold together now. The committee will pay extra attention to how Kentucky performs in the next few weeks and can discount the team's play with Noel since it will be without him in March.
Noel also faces a major decision in the near future: whether to enter the NBA Draft. In his latest NBA Draft Big Board -- from before Tuesday's injury -- Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix had Noel as the No. 3 prospect. The freshman was considered a potential No. 1 overall pick. His injury could cause him to slide if he enters the draft, though not necessarily. The 2013 Draft is considered weak. Given the success of athletes like Vikings running back Adrian Peterson in recovering from knee injuries, a relatively quick return could be possible. Barring any setbacks, Noel could remain a top-five pick if he chooses to leave after his freshman year.