As of this morning, we don’t know the severity of the knee injury that Nerlens Noel, Kentucky’s star center and a likely candidate for the No. 1 pick in this June’s NBA Draft, suffered at Florida last night.
What we do know is that knees aren’t supposed to bend sideways to a 90-degree angle, and that anyone in enough pain to have their screams clearly audible on the television broadcast probably won’t be playing for a while. We can only hope that whatever happened inside that left knee is a) not too serious and b) somehow fixable.
(UPDATE: It’s official: Noel tore his ACL and, obviously, will be out for the rest of the season.)
Because the issue here isn’t that the Kentucky Wildcats lost their star center or that John Calipari’s team, the reigning national champions, now appear destined for the NIT. The bigger problem is that Noel’s knee isn’t a normal knee.
It’s a knee worth millions upon millions of dollars, one that an NBA General Manager is going to have to look at and decide whether or not it’s worth it to invest some $10-$14 million of guaranteed money in.
And that’s precisely why Noel should have never been in college in the first place. From Pat Forde:
The greater issue is Noel’s future, and the way it is put at risk by a system that forced him to play college ball for a year instead of going straight into the NBA draft.
Noel may have gotten hurt in 2013 no matter where he was playing, but at least he would be under contract and well-compensated by whatever NBA team would have drafted him in the first round last June.
Instead, he wound up playing for scholarship money at Kentucky. And while that is nothing to sneeze at, Noel’s presence on campus represents restraint of trade and a bastardization of what college is supposed to be.
He wants to be a pro basketball player. Let him be a pro basketball player without the charade of college delaying it. Unfortunately, that was not an easy option.
If this injury compromises Noel’s draft status, it’s on David Stern and his league’s minimum age requirement.
This is the worst-case scenario. This is the ‘what if?’ we’re always talking about. This is the No. 1 overall pick, a player that could have been banking seven-figures right now had the NBA not implemented the one-and-done rule, risking his livelihood because David Stern and his cronies ruled that a player be 19 and a year out of high school to be eligible for the draft.
The point that needs to be made clear here is that this is not college basketball’s fault. They have no control over what the NBA decides to do. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Mark Emmert and company were pushing for the one-and-done rule to go away. It would take away the headache of some of those recruiting scandals while leaving the NCAA’s one true money-maker — the NCAA tournament — intact.
Maybe Noel’s knee-injury can be a catalyst for change in the next collective bargaining agreement, but that seems unlikely. The NBAPA is an unmitigated disaster right now, and those NBA owners want an extra year — maybe more — of scouting and evaluation and development before they decide to invest millions into an athlete. It’s their money, and they want every bit of information possible to ensure they’re spending it wisely; they want to know they’re spending it on a kid that’s going to be ready to contribute, not a player that needs the length of his rookie contract just to develop enough skill to break into the rotation.
That rule isn’t changing.
And it’s not fair.
So what can we do?
Continue to push for college athletes to be compensated properly by the NCAA? Push for more of the elite players to spend a season abroad? Tell them to avoid college all together and instead spend a year training to develop the rest of their all-around game (an NBA redshirt, if you will)?
Modern medicine has made it such that a blown-out knee is no longer a career-ending injury. Ask Adrian Peterson, who tore his ACL and MCL exactly a year before he nearly broke the single-season NFL rushing record. Ask Branden Dawson, who doesn’t look the slightest bit bothered despite having torn his ACL less than a year ago.
So even if Noel’s knee injury is a worst-case scenario, it’s not necessarily the end of his career.
But the fact that someone so valuable was even put at risk of an injury like this is a travesty.
Yet, there’s nothing that we can do about it than shake our fists and look on disapprovingly.
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.