For years, Nerlens Noel was billed as the area’s top NBA prospect since Patrick Ewing.
Finally, Noel lived up to the hype. He just wasn’t No. 1.
Despite appearing as the top pick on many mock draft boards, Noel, an Everett native, was selected sixth overall by the New Orleans Pelicans in the NBA draft Thursday night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
Minutes later, Noel, a center, was traded to the 76ers for guard Jrue Holiday and a 2014 first-round pick.
Noel will join Hamilton native and former Syracuse point guard Michael Carter-Williams, who was selected by Philadelphia at No. 11.
“I’m really excited,” Carter-Williams said. “Me and Nerlens grew up together. We’re best friends. We played on the same AAU team in high school. It’s like a dream come true. We always talked about how we were both going to make it to the NBA. For us to end up on the same team is a blessing.”
Noel, listed at 6 feet and 11 inches — without his signature high-top fade hairstyle — was an All-Southeastern Conference selection as a freshman at Kentucky last season. He led the nation with 4.4 blocks per game and averaged 10.5 points and 9.5 rebounds.
Noel is recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and hopes to be ready by December. The 19-year-old could not work out for teams because of the injury.
The Cavaliers shocked many by choosing UNLV freshman Anthony Bennett first overall.
Cleveland allowed the clock — an allotted five minutes per pick — to wind down as draft experts debated whether Noel was a risky selection. Meanwhile, Noel, dressed in a gray suit, sat at a table a few feet from the stage. When Bennett’s name was announced, Noel clenched his lips and stared ahead blankly.
More than 30 minutes later, Noel’s name was called. He flashed a Kentucky jersey inside his suit jacket, hugged his mother, and calmly walked to the stage.
In New Orleans, Noel would have joined former Kentucky player Anthony Davis, who was selected No. 1 last year. Instead, he reunites with Carter-Williams.
The Orlando Magic chose Indiana’s Victor Oladipo at No. 2, and the Wizards picked Georgetown’s Otto Porter third. Indiana’s Cody Zeller went fourth and Maryland’s Alex Len fifth.
Noel would have become the third Kentucky player drafted first overall in the last four years.
Noel, the son of working-class Haitian immigrants, spent two years at Everett High before transferring to the Tilton School in New Hampshire.
He helped lead his AAU team, the Boston Amateur Basketball Club, to a 16-and-under national championship.
Noel has been lauded for his strong defensive presence.
A criticism for many teams leading up to the draft was Noel’s offensive ability. He gained about 10 pounds since weighing in at 206 at the combine last month.
“Coming to America from Haiti, working two jobs, [my mom] never quit so I could be where I’m at today,” Noel said. “I wasn’t about to give up.”
When asked about the five teams that passed on him, Noel told USA Today, “Oh yeah, I’m going to make them pay.”
Carter-Williams, a 6-6, 185-pound point guard, left Syracuse after his sophomore season. He averaged 11.9 points, 7.3 assists, and 4.9 rebounds in leading the Orange to the Final Four.
It was a happy moment during a tumultuous year for Carter-Williams, whose Hamilton home was destroyed by a fire during the NCAA Tournament.
Another Tilton standout, Alex Oriakhi of Lowell, was drafted 57th overall by the Phoenix Suns. The 6-10, 258-pound center played three seasons at Connecticut before transferring to Missouri for his senior season. He averaged 11.2 points and 8.4 rebounds a game for the Tigers.Emily Kaplan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @emilymkaplan.