Nerlens Noel had an eventful draft day experience last night. After weeks of being called the prospective No. 1 pick, Noel slipped to sixth overall, where he was selected by the New Orleans Pelicans. Almost immediately after he walked off the stage, the 19-year-old from Kentucky was shipped off to the Philadelphia 76ers in a trade involving Jrue Holiday.  

This past Tuesday, fans were lined up down the block on 42nd Street, hoping to get a chance to meet Noel when he stopped by Champs Sports in Times Square. While there, we sat down with the newest member of the Sixers to discuss that troublesome knee, Will Smith's rap career, and his thoughts on the NBA's "one-and-done" rule.

Interview by Justin Block (@JBlock49)

How’s the rehab been going with your torn ACL? We saw Derrick Rose struggle with the psychological aspect of returning from the same injury. Do you have any mental hurdles with overcoming the injury? 

Yeah, definitely. I’ve got a great group of people around me always giving me good advice. I’m just definitely listening to my physical therapist Kevin Wilkins and Dr. James Andrews. They’ve been doing this for a while, so I’m just being careful to make sure I come back at 110 percent.

When the doctors say you’re ready to go, will you be ready to hit the court?

Yeah, yeah. You definitely gotta go with what he [Dr. Andrews] says. 

 

I’m going to come in there, work my butt off every day, and look to make myself and my teammates better as well.

 

What have you been doing to assure teams that your knee will be okay long-term?

We’re definitely taking it day-by-day, step-by-step. I’m definitely just being patient with it. I’m working that much harder so I can come back stronger than before.

Have you talked to any specific teams in the lead-up to the draft about where they might want to draft you?

Nah, nah. I don’t get too much into particular spots. I just went to a few teams, got to know them, and they got to know me. It was definitely more on a personal level.

What can you contribute to an NBA team, on and off the court, from day one?

Just a good, positive work ethic. A good team attitude. I’m going to come in there, work my butt off every day, and look to make myself and my teammates better as well.

Now being a little self-aware here, what parts of your game do you need to work on personally to make a difference at the NBA level?

Definitely, everything on offense. Just working on my body. Putting up good size, good weight and getting stronger. Working on everything 15 feet and in, so I can knock down that jumper. And using my athleticism to get there.

 

I’m really digging the haircut, but do you think your high-top fade is better than Iman Shumpert’s high-top? Where’d you get the inspiration for it? Gerald from Hey Arnold?

[Laughs.] I think mine is a little better. Everybody got their own opinion. But I got the inspiration from Will Smith. We watched a lot of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air growing up.

Big Will Smith fan growing up? Independence Day, Fresh Prince...

Yeah. Fresh Prince and Kid ‘n Play, too. All that.

What about Will Smith’s albums too? You like his rapping?

Nah. [Laughs.] He was a better actor than he was a rapper. 

 

He [Will Smith] was a better actor than he was a rapper.

 

Now you only had half a season to play college ball because of the injury. Do you think you have benefited from a year at college, even though you weren't on the court for the whole season?

Going to college was probably the best thing for me. I definitely benefited from it, especially playing at Kentucky, with the fans and Coach Cal. I learned a whole lot.

What do you think about the NBA’s draft eligibility rule? Because in previous years, you could’ve had the option to skip college and go right into the league from high school. Is the rule beneficial in your mind?

I definitely think it’s beneficial. Kids don’t know that there's a difference between a high school coach and a college coach. You need that experience to really prepare you for the next level. I think these 18, 19-year-old kids definitely need to go to college and experience a collegiate coach. 

Any mentors in your life or NBA players that have been reaching out to you?

Oh yeah, I’ll say my biggest mentors are my brothers. They always do a great job with keeping me grounded. As for NBA players, I’ve talked to Roy Hibbert, Anthony Davis, a lot of Kentucky guys, especially [Rajon] Rondo with my injury. [Ed. Note: Rondo also suffered a torn ACL this past season] I’ve got a lot of good people around me, telling me good things.

Now that you're embarking on a new chapter in life, one surrounded by these kinds of interviews and promotions, money and constant attention, it's a lot for a 19 year old. Have you changed as a person?

I do that on my own, with staying grounded and staying focused. I’m all about staying focused with everything. I know I’m 19, but I’m taking a lot of this day-by-day. Just really taking everything in, because you’re only going to go through this once in a lifetime.

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