There Are Only Losers in Wake of Nerlens Noel Injury

Jonathan WassermanNBA Lead WriterFebruary 13, 2013

Feb 9, 2013; Lexington, KY, USA; Kentucky Wildcats forward Nerlens Noel (3) reacts during the game against the Auburn Tigers in the second half at Rupp Arena. Kentucky defeated Auburn 72-62. Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports
Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

It's one of the more sickening images in sports—watching an 18-year-old kid squirming on the floor, screaming in agony while holding the single most important body part an athlete is given.

If it turns out University of Kentucky basketball sensation Nerlens Noel has a seriously damaged knee, it's not just him who suffers the consequences.

Noel was in the midst of his breakout—the breakout every young prospect prays they get as a result of hard work and dedication. He had just rounded the second-to-last turn and begun to separate himself from the pack.

The consensus No. 1 recruit coming out of high school, Noel was renowned for his shot-blocking ability and had just recently taken control as the nation's leader in the category.

It's no secret the 2013 NBA draft class will lack star power at the top, but Noel's emergence seemed to diminish this concern. Now, we have to wonder whether he'll even be part of this class.

If it turns out that Noel has sustained a long-term injury, it's possible that entering the draft this year might not be in his best interest. Would a team, and one that likely can't afford to swing and miss, take a chance on a raw big man who busted his knee before ever playing an NBA game?

It's impossible to speak for everyone, but you can be sure that at least some of the teams in the running would be quick to cross him off the list if given the opportunity to select in the top couple of slots.

College basketball needs this kid more than ever. And so do teams like the Charlotte Bobcats, Washington Wizards and Cleveland Cavaliers. So much is depending on the result of this hospital test.

Just think about a worst-case scenario in which Noel has to miss a year, like most severe knee injuries tend to cause, and he chooses to return to Kentucky as a sophomore. Even if he gets back on the court next March, how strong or rusty will he be?

He'd only have a few months before the 2014 NBA draft, and with scouts bound to be watching every move he makes, the pressure will be on. What if he's not ready? Does he return for a junior year?

The injury couldn't have come at a worse time.

He'll have the opportunity to get feedback from the draft committee after the season. Usually it informs kids whether they need to return or if their stock has peaked.

Right now everything is speculation until we hear the diagnosis. But it's important to point out the potential effects a severe injury could have on Noel, the college game and the pros.

Here's the gruesome injury again if you can bear to watch. Our best wishes go out to the big fella.

Update: Preliminary X-rays showed no fracture or break for Noel, but an MRI exam is expected to be done on Wednesday.


Update: Kentucky has revealed that Nerlens Noel has torn his ACL and will miss the remainder of the year.

What a disaster.

Not only is Nerlens Noel out the rest of this year, he's technically out for most, if not all of next. This raises a number of questions about what happens moving forward.

Noel will have to decide whether to enter the 2013 NBA draft, with the chances that no team drafting in the upper echelon will want to risk a valuable pick on an ACL that was torn just four months prior.

If Noel chooses to return, he still wouldn't be able to show scouts anything until close to March. And not everyone is Adrian Peterson. It would probably take a few months for him to regain strength and actually show teams that he's bounced back.

This is a career-changing injury, and one that many will look to blame on the NBA age rule that forbids high school graduates from immediately entering the pros to avoid a situation just like this one.

My initial guess is that Nerlens Noel enters the draft in 2013 in a weak field. He doesn't have a history of knee issues, and we've seen plenty of athletes rebound after this exact injury. Delaying the process could just lead to more trouble.

It's a lose-lose situation for Noel, college basketball and the NBA teams in need. He'll listen to feedback from scouts and coaches, who will ultimately have his best interest.

Most teams drafting at the top of the lottery aren't in win-now situations anyway. I"m just not sure how comfortable a team will be selecting Noel No. 1 overall, which is where most had him pegged after the first week in February.

This is the ugly side of sports. Let's just hope Noel makes a full recovery and regains his status as an elite shot-blocker and tremendous NBA prospect.