'Encouraged' Noel says he's leaping higher

The 76ers' Nerlens Noel. (Michael Perez/AP)
The 76ers' Nerlens Noel. (Michael Perez/AP)
Posted: April 10, 2014

Nerlens Noel reflected Tuesday on his trying rookie season on the sideline, one that the 76ers center says made him stronger.

In his first comments to Philadelphia-area reporters since Sept. 27, Noel discussed the frustration of dealing with the knee injury that forced him to miss the season. He also talked about his progress since his surgery in March 2013 to repair a torn left anterior cruciate ligament.

"I am very encouraged," Noel said after practice at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. "Through the past year since I had my injury, I have pushed myself through thick and thin, and I had some struggles and I just stayed with it."

The Sixers acquired Noel in a draft-day trade with the New Orleans Pelicans. He was the No. 6 overall selection, and many believed he would have been the top pick had he not been injured.

"I worked my butt off to get where I am at now and definitely feel confident I am at my best point and have increased my vertical leap," Noel said. "And I am just building up my body though this past year."

Sixers coach Brett Brown said Noel's work in practice remains limited.

"We really haven't seen him participate in any full practice, and most of it has been by design," Brown said. "The times we have seen him in half-court or playing a lot of one-on-one, I have been on record as saying that his athleticism and all that type of stuff is endless."

The Sixers have only five games remaining, and though they won't say Noel will not play at all, it doesn't seem likely to happen.

"I think the later it gets, the more unlikely it is," Brown said.

When Noel tweeted "4-4-14" last month, he said that was his way of saying he wanted to play in last Friday's game in Boston on April 4.

"It was definitely a goal of mine to come back and be cleared by the Sixers by then, and I was not, so that is that," he said.

Noel said he still would like to see action this year but understands why the Sixers have taken a cautious approach to his comeback.

"Obviously, I do want to play," he said. "The nights on the sideline, I really want to get out there and show my ability to play ball, and it's been tough."

Brown said: "You see how driven and competitive he is. He is a young man who hasn't played in a long time, and he loves playing, and that is a priceless quality - to truly love the game."

The Sixers are expected to compete in at least one summer league, and Noel said he can't wait to get into a game.

He also said there are no physical limitations.

"I am 100 percent," he said. "I have increased my vertical leap over three inches since I got hurt."

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