It’s been a long time since Nerlens Noel has played an actual, real basketball game. You know, with uniforms and a referee and everything.
It’s been so long, in fact, that Noel can barely contain his excitement. Yes, it’s only summer league. But when a guy hasn’t played since February of 2013 and spent the entire season traveling around the country with his teammates just to watch the games from the bench, a player can get a little restless.
Noel might even be a little too fired up to start playing in games again … Even if they are just summer league games.
“Ah man, [being excited] will definitely be an issue,” Noel said after a workout at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine on Monday. “It's not a bad problem to have. I'm real excited. I've got a lot of energy just bottled in.”
How could he not be brimming with energy? After just 24 college games -- four less than Joel Embiid appeared in -- Noel will finally make his Sixers debut next week in Orlando where the team opens summer league play. Not only will Noel be anxious to play, but also he will be stronger from spending a year in the weight room and his reconstructed shot will have a little bit more range on it, too.
For a player who likely would have been the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 draft had he not torn his ACL, the year watching from sidelines served as a great apprenticeship.
But enough is enough already.
“I'm ready. I've been ready. I can't wait to play,” Noel said.
Regardless, Noel isn’t just going to slip back onto the court unnoticed. He will likely get some attention from the folks watching the games in Orlando on NBA TV. Moreover, Noel will have something to prove, too. Because of the knee injury, Noel slipped to the No. 6 overall pick in the 2013 draft. That’s when the Sixers swooped in and sent Jrue Holiday to New Orleans to get Noel and this year’s No. 10 overall pick.
It was a high price for the Sixers to make, especially since they gave up an All-Star and drafted two players that will miss at least a combined three years of action.
There’s also an issue of pride for Noel, too. Had the Sixers not been ready to blow it up and start a rebuilding process, there’s no telling how far Noel would have fallen. It’s likely the Sixers were the only team willing to wait for the 6-foot-11 center to get healthy.
Actually, the Sixers not only waited, but rebuilt Noel’s game from scratch. Just two years removed from high school, it’s as if Noel is starting from square one all over again.
Pressure? Absolutely, Noel said.
“There will be a lot of pressure,” Noel said. “Then again, all I'm trying to do is achieve my goals. I'm not playing for anybody else but myself, the 76ers and the city of Philadelphia.”
That’s enough, since the Sixers and their fans are a demanding audience. But Noel, whose game has been compared to that of Joakim Noah based on practice sessions, is ready for whatever comes his way.
“My goals are to get established and to make sure I get my feel back, my timing back,” Noel said. “It might be a little crazy in the beginning, with the adrenaline and everything.
“Once I take that step back and say, 'I'm here. I'm ready. I've been doing this my whole life.'”