Noel out to prove doubters wrong with Sixers

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Noel out to prove doubters wrong with Sixers

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.

Jay Wright amazed by Joel Embiid's improvements since Kansas

Jay Wright amazed by Joel Embiid's improvements since Kansas

Jay Wright remembers facing Joel Embiid's Kansas team, and he's shocked by the improvements Embiid made while sitting out the last two years.

"Could you imagine not playing for two years and getting better?" Wright said Friday on TCN's Breakfast on Broad. "We played against him in college and he was not close — he was good, but not close to the player that he was at the start of this year. 

"What [the Sixers'] staff did while he was out is incredible. I don't know what other pro athlete has done that or could do that — not play and improve drastically.

"He's a unique force. We haven't seen a guy that's got this will defensively and ability defensively and then the skill level and mobility offensively. I've heard some people compare him to (Hakeem) Olajuwon. He's far more mobile than Olajuwon. Olajuwon, offensively, had his set of skills, which [Embiid] will develop. But the mobility he's got far exceeds Olajuwon. He's exciting. ... It's nice to feel this vibe with the Sixers right now."

Wright was also asked if he, as a coach, would want a player on a minutes restriction participating in the All-Star Game.

"Yeah, I would," he said. "I think that it's such an accomplishment for Joel Embiid. It would build his confidence so much to be on the floor with those guys and realize he's earned this. And to have that a part of his psyche going into the next season — 'OK, I've already been separated during the regular season with those guys, I belong with those guys.' So next year I'm thinking, 'I wanna beat these guys, I wanna be better than these guys.' 

"I think it'll be great for him. I think it's awesome ... what Brett Brown and his staff have done with this guy."

As lucky as good?
With a national championship and another No. 1 ranking this season, it would be understandable if Wright was feeling himself right about now. 'Nova is 17-1 and back atop the AP poll after a brief stint at No. 3.

National Player of the Year candidate Josh Hart is leading the way for the Wildcats with 18.8 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. A lot of Villanova's success this season is owed to Hart's decision to return for his senior year, so Wright has no issue admitting there's been some luck involved in the Wildcats' recent success.

"It's a tremendous advantage and it's really been probably the most important factor in our success the last three, four years," Wright said of 'Nova's senior leadership Friday on TCN's Breakfast on Broad.

"A lot of it is, on Villanova's side, luck. Josh Hart could have left last year. He just looked at it and kind of said, 'I could be maybe a late first-round, early [second-round pick]. I'd rather come back and get my degree.' 

"Having people that make that choice, you're lucky. If we lose him last year, we're a lot younger team this year. Daniel Ochefu the year before was faced with that decision. He stayed. 

"So when you get those guys that decide they're gonna stay, you catch a break because they're invaluable, a senior of that level. Daniel's playing in the NBA now. So we had a guy for a year that was an NBA player. And we have that with Josh this year. Kris (Jenkins) is developing into one, Darryl (Reynolds) has a chance."

Villanova, which destroyed Seton Hall 76-46 on Monday, hosts Providence Saturday at noon.

Gregg Popovich on Sixers: 'One of my joys in life to watch them win'

Gregg Popovich on Sixers: 'One of my joys in life to watch them win'

When Brett Brown agreed to become the Sixers' head coach, he knew he was embarking upon a unique challenge with a franchise that planned to be as methodical as possible in its rebuild. 

One of the results was a career record for Brown of 47-199 entering this season, a record so lopsidedly poor that Brown may never break the .500 mark.

But the Sixers are finally showing real progress, with a star in Joel Embiid and young players who are turning out to be useful pieces. The Sixers have won seven of their last nine, and there's no one happier to see that than Brown's former boss and mentor, Gregg Popovich.

"It's one of my joys in life to watch them win basketball games because if there's any team that deserves it, it's those guys," Popovich told ESPN.

Brown and the Sixers aren't out of the woods yet. At 14-26, they're still closer to the bottom of the Eastern Conference, but the entire vibe around the team has changed. 

"They've had it really tough for all the obvious reasons," said Popovich, who has been the Spurs' head coach since 1996 and worked with Brown from 2002-13.

"There's nobody in our business that is more positive, and more day-to-day upbeat and ready to teach and love than Brett Brown. He's a unique, unique guy."