LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky forward Nerlens Noel will enter the NBA draft as he continues recovering from a torn ACL.
The 6-foot-10-inch freshman from Everett is projected to be a lottery pick despite sustaining his season-ending left knee injury on Feb. 12. He led the nation with 4.4 blocks per game, and averaged 10.5 points and 9.5 rebounds.
Noel also had 50 steals for Kentucky (21-12), earning Southeastern Conference defensive player of the year honors, along with first team all-conference and freshman team selections.
Noel said in statement released by the university that he’s loved his time with the Wildcats but feels he’s ‘‘ready to take the next step to the NBA.’’
Noel played at Everett High and later the Tilton School in New Hampshire.
Considered the nation’s top recruit last year, Noel was often compared with Kentucky All-American Anthony Davis, now in the NBA after leading the Wildcats to a national championship.
‘‘I’ve learned so much here at UK and am thankful for Coach [John] Calipari, the staff, and my teammates for all of their support,’’ Noel said. ‘‘I especially appreciate the Big Blue Nation and all of the support, prayers, and well-wishes I’ve received from them during my rehab and decision-making process. I’ll always be a Wildcat!’’
Noel joins Wildcats guard Archie Goodwin in the NBA draft. The two were part of another much-heralded recruiting class that included forward Alex Poythress and 7-foot center Willie Cauley-Stein, but Noel was the only player that consistently lived up to the high expectations for the freshmen.
The Wildcats went 4-5 without Noel. They not only missed the NCAA Tournament, but lost a first-round NIT game at Robert Morris.
Also Monday, Georgetown sophomore wing player Otto Porter declared himself eligible for the draft, as did Maryland sophomore center Alex Len. According to Yahoo! Sports, North Carolina junior forward Reggie Bullock also declared for the draft.
Porter was the Big East player of the year and finished second in the voting behind Michigan’s Trey Burke for Associated Press player of the year award after averaging 16.2 points and 7.5 rebounds. Burke had declared for the draft Sunday.
Len, a Ukraine native standing 7-1, averaged 11.9 points and 7.8 rebounds and led the ACC with 78 blocked shots.
Georgia coach Mark Fox said Monday that sophomore guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope hired an agent, meaning the SEC’s second-leading scorer (18.5) is also entering.