Noel's first news conference

Posted: July 25, 2013

IF YOU said you expected the 76ers to land Kentucky center Nerlens Noel on draft night, you would only be lying to yourself. Now that the team has obtained its big man of the future, the next thing on the agenda is finding a head coach.

As the new general manager of the Sixers, Sam Hinkie made a big splash by sending All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday to the New Orleans Pelicans for the rights to Noel - the sixth overall pick - and a protected first-rounder in 2014.

Noel is joining the Sixers with a chip on his shoulder after falling to sixth.

"We are excited to add Nerlens to our team," Hinkie said during a news conference to introduce Noel yesterday. "Rim protectors are at a real premium in our league right now. Athletic players have always been at a premium; Nerlens is both. Nerlens is a guy that brings it every possession that he is on the floor and is constantly trying to protect the rim as drivers attack, and is a guy who we think will fit the style of play that we hope to play here in Philadelphia."

Many projected Noel to join the Cleveland Cavaliers, who held the first overall pick on June 27. Instead, the Cavaliers chose UNLV forward Anthony Bennett.

"I was just thinking I would be patient, and now I'm here. I was at the NBA draft and that was my dream," Noel said. "Whatever team selected me, I was going to be very happy about it regardless of what pick I was. This is the best situation for me and these guys are backing me 100 percent."

There is plenty for the Sixers to like about Noel, most notably his size. He is a 6-11, 219-pound center known primarily for his defensive prowess. In addition, Hinkie likes that Noel is only 19 years old and his game still has a lot of room for growth.

"I see him as a guy that every coach from high school to [Kentucky coach John Calipari] to any coach he ever plays for will see him as a weapon defensively, as a guy that changes the game on the other end, that when guards look at the rim they look to find him next and look to see where he is because they know he is a guy that is going to be coming and coming over and over and over," Hinkie said. "I think that's sort of the critical component to his game right now, and then there is all sorts of potential on the other end as well."

Last season, through February, Noel was a standout at the college level. He was averaging 10.5 points, 9.5 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 2.1 steals and an NCAA-best 4.4 blocks before suffering an anterior cruciate ligament tear in his left knee, which cut his freshman campaign short. Noel was named the SEC Defensive Player of the Year, SEC Freshman of the Year and first-team All-SEC, but will not be ready to play for the Sixers until December, at the earliest.

"As far as when I'll be back, I'm just being careful with it and taking it day by day, and I am making a lot of progress," said Noel, who has endured 6 hours of rehab per day. "I'm staying focused and when I feel I am ready to come back physically and mentally then I will definitely take that step towards coming back. It's been a long 5 months and I have put a lot of work in, and I won't stop until I am definitely able to come back stronger than before."

Hinkie indicated that the Sixers were able to trade for the rights to Noel because of the risk involved.

"I think adding talent of Nerlens' caliber is really critical to build the kind of thing we want to build,'' Hinkie said, "and if [the injury] wasn't a factor, we wouldn't have been able to get him, I'll tell you that for sure. We feel fortunate about that."

Of course, the Sixers - under a different regime - were ecstatic last summer to get Andrew Bynum, who never played a game here due to knee issues.

But Noel is 6 years younger than Bynum and, unlike Bynum, did not have a history of knee issues.

Noel will be one of the youngest players in the league, and has a lot of work to do, starting with filling out his lean structure.

"As my career goes on I definitely don't want to pack weight on all at once," Noel said. "I want to gain weight gradually so I am able to maintain my mobility, speed and quickness."

Speed and quickness are not characteristics of the Sixers' coaching search. Candidates who have been mentioned include Sixers assistant coach Michael Curry, San Antonio assistant Brett Brown and others from Hinkie's former team, the Houston Rockets.

"We're focused on getting what we think is the right coach for our team, someone that can help define the culture that I think Nerlens can be a big part in helping shape, as well as serious, everyday, hard-working, selfless, highly competitive players, willing to sort of work on their game when nobody is watching," Hinkie said. "We're looking for someone that can help shape our roster over time because we have a lot to do on it, obviously."

Hinkie compared the coaching search to last summer, when Orlando waited until July 28 to name Jacque Vaughn. Hinkie added that there is a lot of interest in the vacancy, with the focus around core young players such as Noel, and said he will continue to interview potential candidates.

When Noel learned that he was joining the Sixers, he was delighted to see that the team had drafted Syracuse point guard Michael Carter-Williams. The two grew up together in Massachusetts and played on the same AAU team. Noel believes the strong friendship and chemistry they have will only get stronger in Philadelphia.

"It was just great how that happened," Noel said. "I was just thinking, 'How could that have happened coincidentally?' but [Hinkie] is just a genius. To have two players who have already played together at AAU and already have a great relationship, from point guard to big man, the guy put a lot of thinking into that."

While he acknowledges there is added pressure based on the Bynum fiasco last season and that the Sixers are still without a head coach, Noel said he is prepared for anything.

Noel promises to make the teams that passed on him pay. He plans to use his draft position as motivation to become one of the game's top centers, and rather than worry about where he was selected, he will prove himself on the court.

"Yeah, it's something that's always going to be in the back of my mind, but it's nothing that is like a sour feeling, it's more of a motivational thing and will drive me to be the great player I want to be," Noel said. "Being here in Philadelphia, I'm just going to keep working hard and stay focused and now it's something that will make the chip on my shoulder grow that much bigger."

DN Members Onl y: Marcus Hayes says the future isn't now for Noel or the Sixers.

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