NEW YORK -- Nerlens Noel walked into his first press conference still wearing a New Orleans Pelicans hat. The questions were coming in as reports surfaced that he had been traded to the Sixers in a deal that involved point guard Jrue Holiday (see story).
Either Noel didn’t know he was traded or was told to avoid answering questions regarding the deal because it wasn’t made official.
When Noel finally did answer a question pertaining to him being traded to the Sixers, he said he was looking forward to joining a “great organization.”
Short and sweet.
After Thursday’s draft wrapped up, officials said Noel would be returning to comment on his trade to the Sixers. At about 12:30 a.m. on Friday, the 6-foot-10 Kentucky center stood outside the press room in the Barclays Center and answered questions about a night in which he was passed over by five teams before being selected by the Pelicans, only to be dealt to the Sixers.
“It’s definitely been a little hectic, but I’m definitely staying focused and staying positive through this,” he said.
Noel said he was notified that he had been traded to the Sixers after initially being confused about the deal. After the move was clarified, he reminded everyone that he was looking forward to coming to Philadelphia.
“They have a great organization, especially being there with one of my best friends growing up in Michael Carter-Williams (drafted 11th overall by the Sixers),” Noel said. “I’m definitely looking forward to that.”
Noel averaged 10.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and 4.4 blocks in 24 games in his first and only season at Kentucky before tearing his left ACL.
Standing there, a few reporters surrounding him, one could get the sense Noel was upset about how the night unfolded. When he arrived at the Barclays Center on Thursday, the consensus was Noel would be drafted first overall. When he departed, that wasn’t the case.
“In a few years down the road, when I am established in the NBA, I’ll say this is the night that gave me motivation that I needed to be the player that I wanted to be,” Noel said.
Carter-Williams agreed with Noel’s notion.
“That’s how things end up,” Carter-Williams said. “It was meant to be. I am sure he has a chip on his shoulder now, and who knows, maybe that’s what he needs for him to be great in the NBA.”
Noel understood why he dropped in the draft, though. It was that ACL tear he suffered in February. Coming into the NBA draft, teams were said to be concerned about the injury and whether a December return was realistic.
Noel was asked if he thought teams were nervous to take a chance on him.
“I’d have to say so,” he said. “I mean, [teams] are going to make their own decisions that are best for them and, you know, later down the road let’s hope they made the right decision.”
Noel said he has started advanced workouts, added some defensive slides to his rehab and is even doing a little running. He estimated a comeback “around November.”
When it all shook out, was Noel happy to be drafted? Yes. He confessed it was a little hard to look at the positives but vowed to take any frustration out on the court.
“As hard as I was working," he said, "I’m definitely going to [rehab] with a bigger chip on my shoulder and come back for this and show the reason why …”
He didn’t finish the sentence. No need. Noel will be out to show the world why he, and not Anthony Bennett, should have been drafted No. 1 overall on Thursday.
Noel looked different when he met the media this time. He stood tall, this time without a New Orleans Pelicans hat on his head.
He is a Sixer now. A Sixer with something to prove.