Overcoming the adversity of injury is the common theme of our Road to Recovery series. He just turned 20 years old this past April, but Sixers center Nerlens Noel had to deal with injury misfortune before ever stepping foot onto the NBA hardwood after a torn ACL during his freshman season at Kentucky robbed him of his rookie campaign.
Noel never got down on himself and has embraced the city of Philadelphia as his new home. He’s even helped others recover from hard times in his brief stint as a member of the Philly community while going through his own recovery process.
A short time ago, a struggling waitress in an uncrowded restaurant had no idea who Noel was but became talkative in order to pass the time during a slow night shift. Through their interaction, the waitress expressed how she was working two jobs to put herself through school. She told Noel she always wanted to go to a Backstreet Boys concert and meet the formerly popular boy band.
Afterwards, Noel worked with Live Nation and the Backstreet Boys to arrange for the waitress to achieve that dream. He organized a driver to take her to an upcoming show in the area, and armed her with concert tickets coupled with meet-and-greet passes for her favorite boy band.
Noel is only 20 years-old but understands his recent plight isn’t the worst thing in a sometimes very cruel world. Helping others sometimes helps with whatever may be ailing you at the time. The man who rocks one of the meanest high-top fades today talked with us about his road to recovery as he embarks on his second year in the league, but the first in which he will actually be able to take the court.
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Dime: I bet the the last year and half has been a whirlwind for you. Walk me through the draft process last year. Obviously you couldn’t work out but how did you feel your meetings with teams went?
Nerlens Noel: It went well I felt. I think I met with five teams last year. It was a different type of process being injured but I thought it went well. But I am very glad where I ended up in the city of Philadelphia.
Dime: You were acquired and traded on draft night after slipping a bit [Noel was the preceived No. 1 heading into the Draft], so you were indoctrinated into the business of the NBA pretty early. Did that process make you jaded or upset at all?
NN: No not at all. Maybe a chip on the shoulder type thing for slipping but the trade thing — that was all beforehand. It was premeditated so that doesn’t really speak to anything. I was prepared for it coming off the injury and I was told of the possibility where I could end up. It all turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
Dime: So clearly the organization is still taking precautions with you, but are you physically at 100 prcent or is there anything you are still trying to strengthen?
NN: Nah, I am 100percent good. I am 18 months post-op so I am well over 100 percent. I’m feeling great, continuing to strengthen every part of my body and put on the size I need to so I can sustain a long NBA season.
Dime: Last year Coach [Brett] Brown made some interesting comments about you reconstructing your game — particularly your jump shot. Did you agree with his assessment? What did you think when you heard what he said?
NN: Yeah I definitely agreed with that. This past year with not playing we worked on my shot after shoot around and before games…Especially with Coach Brown, the head coach, working with me hand in hand that says a lot. We definitely put a lot of work in. You know my first game back (at Orlando Summer League) I shot 7-7 from the free throw line and I thought that was payment for all the work I had been putting in. We are going to continue to critique it and stick to the fundamentals. I can continue to build my jump shot and be consistent with it.
Dime: Would you say that [his jump shot] is the most improved aspect of your game from when you left college?
NN: Yeah I would say so, but maybe just my skill-set overall and being able to be seen as a threat offensively. Just being able to score and put the ball in the bucket — that’s just one step closer to bringing my game to a more complete level. Catching my offense up to my defense, you know once I am able to do that, I will have a pretty good overall game.
Dime: Philly sat you out the entire season and the team really struggled with your absence. Did you feel that you could have come back at any point last year? Was it burning you up to watch the team lose?
NN: Yeah it definitely was burning me to watch my team lose. Especially on the losing streak of 26 games, you know it was tough. I just had to stay positive and focused and wait for my time. And towards the end of the year around March or April I felt really good. I felt I was able to go but I sat down with my GM, Sam [Hinkie], and everybody on the coaching staff and we really thought it was the best thing I didn’t come back. But I thought it all went well and for the best interest of me.