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Kentucky Wildcats head coach John Calipari talks with forward Nerlens Noel (3) during a time in the game against the Northwood Seahawks at Rupp Arena. / Mark Zerof, US Presswire

In the immediate aftermath of the awkward landing and unlucky twist of Nerlens Noel's left knee Tuesday night and the subsequent diagnosis - torn anterior cruciate ligament, out for the season - the issues related to the injury are reverberating in many directions.

Noel and his family. The 6-10 freshman superstar, the son of Haitian immigrants, is John Calipari's latest prodigy at Kentucky and was expected to be the first pick in this year's NBA draft. But now he's facing a possible dilemma of bolting for the pros or getting healthy for a second year in Lexington.

Kentucky. Beginning to round into form, with Noel at the core of the improvement, the defending champion Wildcats have sustained a serious blow to their ambitions of becoming an NCAA title contender.

The NCAA tournament. An event that has become hungry for marketable stars amid the rush of players to get to the NBA after just a year or two in college is bemoaning the loss of Noel, a dynamic young star in the mold of Anthony Davis, the intimidating shot-blocker that led Kentucky to last year's title.

The NBA. So many of the NBA's top picks in recent years have had serious injuries both before and after the draft. Some have eventually worked out (see Irving, Kyrie) and some have not (see Oden, Greg). Will the team with the first pick in the June draft see the evidence of what Noel can do - he averaged 10.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and led the nation with 4.4 blocks per game - or will they see the scalpel that sliced into Noel's knee just four months before the draft?

Kentucky said Noel will be out six to eight months, which is the same timetable given recently by U.S. ski team officials after Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn tore her ACL and MCL in a training crash.

But Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose has been sidelined nine months since his ACL surgery and told USA TODAY Sports this week that he is "far away" from returning.

Then there is running back Adrian Peterson, who had ACL surgery in December 2011 and put together an MVP season in 2012.

Calipari tweeted Wednesday that he met with Noel on Wednesday morning and "loved his attitude. The way he is already dealing with this injury lets me know that he is going to come back stronger than ever. ... Obviously, this is not a career-ending injury and it's one that athletes bounce back from all the time."

The recovery time can be affected somewhat by the drive and work ethic of the athlete. But the wide variance in these injuries usually is dependent not on mental drive but on physiology, Robert Klapper, chief of orthopedic surgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Group in Los Angeles, told USA TODAY Sports.

"It all comes back to anatomy," Klapper said. "It's unfair to say that a guy who comes back in six months has more drive than a guy who takes 12 months. Some athletes have second stabilizers that are stronger. Those athletes can suffer a less devastating injury and have a faster recovery period."

Klapper says Noel should not expect to be his quick, high-leaping self in his first season after surgery but could be better than ever in the 2014-15 season. He says it takes big guys longer to recover than point guards, more like 9-12 months .

"These surgeries that we're doing now are so much more advanced ," he said. "You look at the pitchers who have had Tommy John surgery. Their arms are stronger than they were before the surgery. It can work that way with knee surgeries, too. I think you can actually call these performance-enhancing surgeries."

For that reason, if Klapper was an NBA general manager with the first pick in the draft and he was sold on Noel as a player, he'd pick him with the confidence that eventually he would return to 100%.

The NBA operates under a rookie salary scale. The top slot in the coming draft class is a three-year deal for $13.9 million, according to the collective bargaining agreement. Drop down to the 10th slot and the same length contract is worth $6 million.

If Noel thought he'd slip enough to cut his rookie NBA deal by nearly $8 million, would he stay for a sophomore season? He hasn't said all season what he intends to do.

One NBA draft expert says Noel likely won't slip much if at all.

"At the end of the day, he's still the best big guy on the board," said Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress.com. "If you need a center ... Noel brings dramatically different things (than any other center). GMs are going to want a thorough examination, but I have to imagine he's going to recover and be just fine from this.

"It's tough to swallow if you're an NBA GM, the worst team in the league, and you get the No. 1 pick in the draft and you don't have immediate help coming. But I don't think it's going to hurt him that much when it's all said and done."

There is pressure on a last-place team's GM to add someone who can help right away. That's now off the table with Noel, so any GM who takes him has to think his upside is so huge that it's worth passing on players who might provide that immediate impact expected from a top pick.

One NBA executive who would not comment publicly because of tampering rules told USA TODAY that he thinks Noel is certainly a top-10 pick but not a certain top-five pick. He said Noel can affect the game with his defense but doesn't have much of an offensive game yet. He said Noel's value will be as an energy-effort guy.

Of more immediate concern at Kentucky is how to win games without Noel. The Wildcats (17-7) have been gradually improving. Though the primary concern should be based on the health of Noel and how it affects his future, Kentucky's NCAA tournament hopes now take a serious hit without Noel in the lineup.

It had taken the defending national champions almost four months to establish themselves as a borderline single-digit seed in the NCAA tournament. With Noel sidelined, the Wildcats must re-establish themselves as an NCAA tournament team in less than five weeks.

The NCAA tournament selection committee, among others, will be watching closely.

"The reality is we have about 4 1/2 weeks of basketball left to be able to watch Kentucky play and to see how they perform without him in the lineup now and that will really tell the story I think of how we ultimately judge and view Kentucky," said committee chair Mike Bobinski. "It is way too early to consider them in, out or in between. We will clearly be watching them closely to see how they are able to play without a young man who clearly has been an important part of their success."

Contributing: Sam Amick, Eric Prisbell, Kyle Tucker



Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com

Read the original story: What happens now for Nerlens Noel, Kentucky after unlucky twist?

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