Ex-Cat Anderson an experienced adviser for Noel on ACL

jtipton@herald-leader.comFebruary 28, 2013 

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    Kentucky at Arkansas

    When: Saturday, 4 p.m. (CBS-27)

When he tore an anterior cruciate ligament at Florida, Nerlens Noel became a member of a club that no one wants to join. That there is a fraternity of BBFs who share the experience of torn ACLs led former Kentucky star Derek Anderson to offer Noel support.

"Because, trust me, when I hurt my knee, that was the most miserable time of my life," Anderson said. "Man, it was like, 'I'm alone. The players are gone. They're practicing. They're playing.'

"It was just the emotional and mental aspect I couldn't grasp for a while."

Anderson advised Noel to rejoin his teammates in as many activities as possible as quickly as possible.

Noel tore the ACL in his left knee as he came down awkwardly after blocking a shot on Feb. 12. He crumpled to the floor, clutching his leg and screaming in pain. Suddenly, there was doubt cast on Kentucky's season. More importantly, from a personal point of view, Noel had to be apprehensive about his basketball future.

This led Anderson to drive from Louisville to Lexington soon after the Kentucky team returned from the game. The former UK player wanted Noel to know there is life after a torn ACL. It can be an abundant life.

Anderson, who twice tore ACLs as a college player, showed Noel video of him playing in the NBA.

"You can still have an NBA career ... ," Anderson said he told Noel. "But you have to build your body up so it's eventually strong enough to finish (the rehabilitation)."

Anderson said he had spoken to Noel repeatedly. Doctors are expected to repair the torn ACL soon. As Anderson suggested, there is optimism that Noel will again play basketball at a high level.

Anderson shared his message to Noel on Wednesday, when he and teammates from UK's 1995-96 national championship team received rings from the school's athletic department.

When asked about Noel's mood in their talks, Anderson said, "He was very excited. Very upbeat. We started talking and we became like brothers in a sense. He was like looking up to me."

Anderson said he stressed the importance of concentrating on the rehabilitation.

Anderson, one in a long line of star high school players from Louisville, first tore an ACL in 1994 as a player for Ohio State. He hoped to miss no more than the first few games of the following season when he resumed his career for the Buckeyes.

But when rumors of NCAA sanctions intensified, Anderson considered a transfer.

"It was like edging me over the border," Anderson said of the option to transfer, "because I wasn't planning on leaving."

But the possibility of the NCAA penalizing Ohio State led Anderson to reconsider.

"You know what, there's no sense in missing any games," he said he thought to himself. "I'll just transfer and sit out (a season). I won't have to miss any games."

Anderson again tore an ACL in mid-season of 1996-97. As he went through another round of surgery and rehabilitation, his teammates continued on what would become a run to the Final Four.

A classic debate about short-term gain and long-term risk arose: Should Anderson play in the Final Four or continue the rehabilitation with the aim of being fully healthy for the next NBA season?

Anderson recalled three doctors watching him practice with the team prior to the Final Four games. "I was wind-mill dunking, practicing hard, scoring," he said.

Ultimately, then-UK coach Rick Pitino decided Anderson should not risk his NBA future. Anderson did not play.

"Coach Pitino thought I had a future in the NBA," Anderson said. "He basically said, 'I don't want to take a risk (of re-injury).'

"Even to this day, I would have played. I'd have taken the risk of not playing a few years in the NBA."

Of course, Anderson had experienced the thrill of winning a national title in 1996. So why take the risk?

"But I wasn't guaranteed to last in the NBA, either," he said. "What if I tore my knee out again in the NBA and never made it?"

The immediate reality of extending his Kentucky career seemed more important than the chance of fulfilling an NBA dream.

"What I tell everybody is that was the best time in my life," Anderson said of playing for UK. "It wasn't a job. It was for fun, just for the passion of playing."

Looking back now as an adult, Anderson sees the wisdom of Pitino's decision.

"If I was Coach Pitino, I wouldn't have played the player," he said. "I wouldn't have given him that option."


Kentucky at Arkansas

When: Saturday, 4 p.m. (CBS-27)

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227 Twitter: @JerryTipton Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com

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