Inside the Sixers: One of Noel's biggest lessons involves patience

76ers head coach Brett Brown and center Nerlens Noel. (Michael Perez/AP)
76ers head coach Brett Brown and center Nerlens Noel. (Michael Perez/AP)
Posted: April 15, 2014

When Nerlens Noel was traded to the 76ers in last June's NBA draft, there was no way he could have envisioned what awaited him.

The 6-foot-11 center couldn't have imagined that his career would be put on hold after he suffered a torn left anterior cruciate ligament in his lone season at Kentucky. He wouldn't get the chance to learn through his mistakes during games, as Michael Carter-Williams - the team's first-round pick - did this season.

"One of the biggest qualities I learned about myself would definitely have to be patience and how much I could simply learn about this game while sitting on the bench," Noel said.

That's what Noel has done during a rookie season that has been somewhat equivalent to a redshirt campaign in college. He is observing, studying, and learning what it takes to be a professional.

But Noel originally expected to make his NBA debut in December. The reason he has not played is open for debate. The 20-year-old was cleared by his surgeon, James Andrews, to participate in basketball-related activities in January.

The Sixers didn't clear Noel for full-court five-on-five scrimmages until last week, and it was always unlikely that he would have played this season at all. Sixers coach Brett Brown said that Noel would likely miss the season on Oct. 21.

However, the rookie was holding out hope. He wanted to make his debut on April 4 against the Celtics at TD Garden in Boston. Noel grew up in nearby Everett, Mass. He still wants to play, even though there are only two games left: Monday at home against the Celtics and Wednesday in Miami against the Heat. Noel doesn't care that by playing he would wipe out any rookie-of-the-year consideration he could receive next season.

"Think about that," Brown said. "He doesn't care about that. If rookie of the year comes, so be it. If it doesn't, so be it. He was aware of that when he was trying to play."

That's one example of Noel's competitiveness and eagerness to get back on the court.

Another example involves the post-practice, one-on-one workouts he has with Jarvis Varnado and Brandon Davies. Noel's athleticism, quickness, explosive first step, rim protection, and "wow" factor are on display during those workouts.

"He gets up really high when he's blocking shots. Higher than me," said Varnado, who is averaging 1.23 blocks per game. "His quick jump is unbelievable. He can get up off the floor fast. His quick jumping and how high he rises is unbelievable."

So is his competitive spirit.

Noel doesn't like losing at anything - especially the post-practice and pregame shooting contests he has with Brown. Nor does he want to lose during any possession he's on the floor at practice. And it has been killing him to sit back and watch the Sixers (17-63) lose 32 of their last 34 games.

"I get so attracted to that quality in anybody," Brown said. "For me, that's the number one quality we want in people we draft [and] hold on to. Do they really compete? Do they really not like losing? And do they back it up with their preparation?"

Noel has backed it up in his preparation.

But folks won't get their first glimpse of him in game situations until the Orlando Pro Summer League in July. That debut will come seven months after he originally anticipated.

"It's been tough," Noel said of sitting out this season.

But he has been patient and focused on displaying his strength and athletic ability this summer and next season.

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


kpompey@phillynews.com

@PompeyOnSixers

www.inquirer.com/deepsixer

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