The well-coiffed Kentucky big man and potential NBA top pick is rehabbing after ACL surgery and eager to show he's ready to go.
DAN PATRICK:When do you expect to be back 100 percent?
NERLENS NOEL: My physical therapist says I'm ahead of schedule. I'm moving pretty good at the five-week point. I'm just taking it slowly.
DP:When did you realize how serious your injury was?
NN: When I went down [against Florida], I was in shock. I tried to stay strong. When I saw the MRI, I was nervous to hear it was an ACL. But I just stayed focused and got my mind together.
DP:How did it go when you told Coach Calipari you wanted to go to the NBA?
NN: I went into his office, and he told me he'd love to have me back. It was a couple of days after the injury. It was up to me. We had to put it into perspective whether I'd drop a few picks. I analyzed what I had to do and stuck to my physical therapy. I think I made a good decision to declare.
DP:Was there any chance of your staying at Kentucky?
NN: There was, considering how much I loved playing here. It was a great experience, and I was really thinking about coming back.
DP:If I gave you a choice of two years at Kentucky or straight to the NBA after you graduated high school....
NN: I'd probably have to say two years at Kentucky.
DP:Are you ready for the NBA?
NN: I feel [like I am].
DP:What former Kentucky player has given you the best NBA advice?
NN: Kenny (Sky) Walker. He told me how physical it is in the NBA and how mentally focused you have to be every time out.
DP:How often have you heard about Adrian Peterson's recovery from knee surgery?
NN: Quite a few times. How quickly he bounced back. That's the mind-set I have. Get back as soon as possible, come back as strong as possible.
DP:You're listed at 6'10". What would you be if you got your hair cut?
NN: I'm 6'10" without my shoes. With my hair I'm 6'11", 7-footish.
DP:Who was your inspiration for that haircut?
NN: Will Smith and Kid 'n Play.
DP:You're from Everett, Mass. How were you affected by what happened at the Boston Marathon?
NN: It was a very sad moment for me, knowing that was the city that raised me. That was the day I declared. [Declaring] wasn't even on my mind the rest of the day. It was just about those people.
DP:Did you grow up a Celtics fan?
DP:Say the Knicks acquired you. How would that work?
NN: There'd be some animosity [to deal with].
DP:How would your family react?
NN: They'd be a little iffy about it. But they'd be pretty proud regardless.
DP:Who was your favorite Celtic?
NN: Kevin Garnett.
DP:Who's the guy you can't wait to face in the NBA?
NN: Kevin Garnett.
DP:Be careful what you ask for.
NN: I'm ready for it.
"There's always doubt. There's doubt with 30 coaches in this league. Anytime the Lakers are struggling to get into the playoffs there's going to be doubt.... If I'm 40 years old, I'd be a little more paranoid. [Being] 62, you do the best you can do."
—MIKE D'ANTONI, on his state of mind before Lakers G.M. Mitch Kupchak said D'Antoni would return as L.A.'s coach
Former NFL executive Scott Pioli said the off-field issues of Manti Te'o may not have had much impact on his draft stock after all: "What happened to [Te'o] has happened to a lot of people. A lot of NFL people. It's just been a lot quieter." ... Private QB coach Steve Clarkson is helping Tim Tebow with his throwing motion, and doesn't think the controversial QB has far to go. "The guy has a very powerful arm," Clarkson told me. "His skill set is fine. He just has to get to a place where [teams] understand what he's about." ... Peter Schmuck of The (Baltimore) Sun says locals shouldn't rip the Orioles for forcing the Ravens to open on the road against Denver. "If you put the Ravens coaching staff on a polygraph," Schmuck told me, "they love the idea of getting that Denver game out of the way when it's warm and they have 10 days to recover." ... I asked Yankees G.M. Brian Cashman if he'd rather negotiate with Scott Boras or new agent Jay-Z. "I'd just rather have a successful negotiation either way," Cashman said. "I might ask for Jay-Z's autograph when it's over."
MICHAEL J. LEBRECHT II/1DEUCE3 FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (PATRICK)
MARK ZEROF/US PRESSWIRE (NOEL)
ORLIN WAGNER/AP (PIOLI)
TODD BIGELOW FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (CLARKSON)
COURTESY OF THE BALTIMORE SUN MEDIA GROUP (SCHMUCK)
J. MERIC/GETTY IMAGES (CASHMAN)