After being projected by many as the top overall pick, Noel was selected sixth by New Orleans. When Noel put on a Pelicans hat and shook David Stern's hand, it seemed he would be joining Anthony Davis and Darius Miller in the Big Easy.
Moments later, that changed.
According to multiple reports, the Philadelphia 76ers agreed to trade for Noel. The shot-blocking former Wildcat learned of the proposed, though still-unofficial trade while answering questions from the media.
"Great history of players," Noel told ESPN's Andy Katz, one of the first to report the trade. "Can't wait to get there. Blue-collar city. I consider myself a blue-collar kid."
After the way he played during an injury-shortened freshman season, that approach should surprise no one. Noel averaged 10.5 points, 4.4 blocks, 9.5 rebounds and 2.1 steals per game in 24 games, flashing unquestioned defensive ability and a rapidly developing offensive game.
"He's a defensive savant and his energy, his freaky athleticism--he not only blocks shots, he gets steals," Jay Bilas said on ESPN's draft broadcast. "He can block shots from the weak side, he blocks shots from off the ball but he also gets two steals per game. He gets steals on the ball and he gets steals anticipating off the ball. That's really unusual for a guy his size."
That rare skillset is what convinced many experts that Noel would be the third Wildcat chosen first in four seasons. Instead, surrounded by family, friends and his college coach, he had a longer wait than expected.
"As always, very anxious moments at the NBA Draft," John Calipari said. "I like where Nerlens ended up in Philly. I think it's a great situation with a young team. I wish he would have been picked earlier, but that's part of the game. Now let's wait for Archie (Goodwin) and see where he goes."
As it stands, Noel became the seventh UK player taken in the top eight in the last four years.
While in Lexington, Noel gained praise for his motor and work ethic, which is reason to believe he'll turn draft night into more motivation.
"I think he's going to be a productive player regardless of where he is," ESPN's Jalen Rose said.