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April 23, 2013The injury has dictated his life since Feb. 12, but Nerlens Noel won't look back.
Asked to describe how, exactly, he tore his ACL chasing down a breakaway in Kentucky's game against Florida one month and 11 days ago, Noel declined.
"I don't really want to recollect that," Noel said. "It's over."
He's moving on from his injury, focusing only on the rehab that will get him back on the court.
He's moving on from Kentucky now, too, as he finishes up his last two weeks in college before beginning his professional career.
It could culminate in being the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft.
"It would be a dream come true," Noel said.
It would also be something he thought might not be possible in the immediate aftermath of his injury. As he lay on the court, Noel wondered what had happened, how bad it was, and how long it would take him to recover.
His only two certainties: That he would, eventually, make it back to playing basketball.
And that he wouldn't take back that play for anything.
"Nuh uh. No way," Noel said of whether he regretted chasing down a player without much chance of actually changing the play. "That's just who I am."
That mentality and that motor -- along with the skills that led to averaging 10.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and 4.4 blocks in 24 games -- are important factors to Noel projecting as the favorite to be selected first in the NBA Draft.
"I am excited for him and his future," coach John Calipari said in a previous release. "The hard work and will to win he showed on the floor this year and the dedication and attitude he has shown in his rehab will only be a reward for him and whatever team drafts him in June."
If it's the team picking first, Noel would be the third Wildcat ever selected with the top overall pick.
All of them would have come in a four-year span.
That was part of why Noel came to Kentucky, and why he's leaving. Noel said there's not "another coach in the country that can prepare" a player to be a millionaire professional like Calipari can.
"It benefitted me a lot, especially playing here under Coach Calipari and the coaching staff," Noel said of his year in college. "There are no pushovers here. They want you to be the best you can be and they don't accept nothing less."
Noel said it was "real tough" to watch Kentucky fade in the seven games after his injury, ultimately missing the NCAA Tournament and losing in the first round of the NIT. But he said he was "proud" of his teammates for continuing to battle, noting they beat Florida and Missouri without him.
Noel said he considered returning for a second year because of the Big Blue Nation -- the passionate fans, the dedication to basketball, playing in Rupp Arena.
"These are the best times of your life," Noel said, "whether it's one or four years."
And yes, he thought about what next season could be like if he joined the eight incoming freshmen in a star-studded class, most of whom Noel played with before he reclassified in high school.
"I know how good they are," Noel said. "That would have been a real special team if I had stayed."
But he couldn't pass up the NBA, not after he saw that his ACL injury wouldn't affect his draft stock and that his recovery would be on track. Noel said he potentially could be playing by December.
While he's moving on -- and he he's not upset that the NBA doesn't have a higher age rule that forces players to stay more than one year -- Noel will remember his cut-short time as a Wildcat with fondness.
"I loved this year, though," Noel said. "This was one of the best experiences of my life being here at Kentucky this year."