NEW YORK – Kentucky's Nerlens Noel and Maryland's Alex Len faced each other to open the NCAA season. Seven months later, they're competing to see who might be the No. 1 pick in the 2013 NBA draft.
The Cleveland Cavaliers hold the No. 1 pick, and Noel and Len are among a handful of players they have considered taking in one of the more wide-open drafts.
"I'm not making any assumptions on where I go," Noel said.
Said Len: "Somewhere inside, you want to be No. 1. You want to be the best. It's your competitive side. Yeah, I want to be No. 1."
Noel has long been projected as a top candidate to go No. 1 since the Cavs won the draft lottery last month. The Cavs, however, recently hired Vitaly Potapenko as a player development coach, and some presume he was added to work with Len, who, like Potapenko, is Ukranian.
Georgetown forward Otto Porter, Indiana guard Victor Oladipo and Kansas guard Ben McLemore also have all received consideration from the Cavs for the top pick, a league source said.
The last three NBA drafts haven't been memorable, but Anthony Davis (2012), Kyrie Irving (2011) and John Wall (2010) were widely seen as the top choices beforehand. That's not the case this year.
"A lot of people might be shocked about some things," Oladipo said. "We'll see. There is no telling what happens."
Noel's Kentucky Wildcats faced Len's Maryland Terrapins on Nov. 9. Len had 23 points on 10-of-18 shooting, 12 rebounds and four blocks. Noel finished with four points, nine rebounds and three blocks during Kentucky's 72-69 victory. Len said the game helped show his potential to NBA scouts.
When asked if he should be selected over Noel, Len said: "Definitely. I played against him my first game and I played well against him."
Noel and Len do have one thing in common: neither is healthy. Noel's season ended early after he needed knee surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament. He thinks he'll more than likely be playing by November, but could miss training camp. Len is still wearing a protective boot following left ankle surgery, but said he will be ready by training camp.
"In three weeks I will start doing stuff on the court, but I'm going to take it slowly," Len said.
And Noel and Len aren't the only top prospects who are recovering. UNLV forward Anthony Bennett is expected to be cleared to play before training camp following rotator cuff surgery on his left shoulder last month.
The injuries have only added to the uncertainty of this draft.
"I'm coming into tomorrow with an open mind," Noel said. "Nothing is a definite."
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