The phrase “the sky is the limit” is typically used for an individual who tremendously excels or has the potential to excel in their respective craft. That statement, in this particular case, does not hold true to 7-0, 250 pound Kansas Freshman C Joel Embiid. In Embiid’s case, the ceiling for his potential is much higher than the sky. “Pluto is the limit” might further suffice when describing the future of the seven-footer.
Born as Joel Hans Embiid, son of Thomas and Christine Embiid, the 19-year old Freshman Center hails from Yaounde, Cameroon. Growing up in Africa, the major sport in Embiid’s life surprisingly was not basketball, but rather soccer and volleyball. With a 7-5 wingspan, most would expect Embiid to play goalie considering his height as well, while in fact the Cameroon native played Midfielder and developed amazing footwork throughout his time in the sport. When it came to volleyball, Joel’s father expected him to eventually become a professional in Europe.
Up until age 16, Joel Embiid had never played an organized game of basketball until he attended the “Basketball Without Borders” camp that was headed by fellow Cameroon native Luc Mbah a Moute, now-Forward for the Minnesota Timberwolves. After the camp, Embiid decided to make the move to the U.S. to further pursue a future in basketball.
A Junior in high school, Embiid arrived at Monteverde Prep School in Florida. The Cameroon native struggled at first, but as time went on the potential for the young Embiid would dramatically increase.
Embiid transferred from Monteverde to play his Senior season at The Rock School in Gainesville, Florida. The seven-footer started his Senior campaign unranked and unnoticed by a majority of the nation. Throughout Embiid’s first and last complete high school season, he averaged 13.0 points, 9.7 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks per game, leading The Rock School to it’s first State Championship in school history, finishing with a 33-4 overall record. By the end of the season, Embiid’s stock had risen and the “Akeem” like Center was the 6th ranked recruit in the ESPN Top 100 class of 2013.
As a five-star recruit and the top recruit at his position, as well as in the state of Florida, Embiid received scholarship offers from the University of Kansas, as well as Texas and Florida. On November 13, 2012, a report via ESPN Recruiting Nation keyed the 7-0 Center as a signee of the University of Kansas Jayhawks.
“When I was visiting schools I wanted to go and see what they got,” Embiid said. “After my visit I knew that Kansas was good. Luc (Mbah a Moute) talked to some people in the NBA and they said that the player development was good at Kansas.”
In ESPN Insider’s Scouting Report of Embiid, updated as of May 5, 2013, covered Embiid’s strengths, weaknesses, and the overall bottom line of the recruit.
His Strengths: Embiid was described as raw, but coming on strong and quick. Equipped with all the tools to make it big, including size, athleticism, as well as coordination, explosion, and uncommon agility and feel for the game. Has the ability to finish with both hands around the rim. The Center was also reported as having fluent ball handling and footwork, “better than most guards” the analyst said. Embiid was further described as an intelligent, committed worker who has the desire and ability to maximize his potential.
His Weaknesses: The seven-foot Center was easily fooled by fakes and needed learn to stand his ground. Offensively, Embiid needed a comfort zone. With a lot of moves to work with, Embiid still lacked a signature move. The Cameroon native obviously lacked game experience, and had still not physically peaked, something that comes over time.
The Bottom Line on Embiid was overall described as an NBA Prospect with natural ability. The analyst was quoted as saying, “This kid is a season away from becoming a legit elite prospect and player. Should have aspirations to spend a few years in college and take it a step further.”
There is no denying the fact that Joel Embiid was slowly but surely arriving on the scene.
Joel Embiid started his Freshman season at the University of Kansas coming off the bench, but 8 games into the season, Head Coach Bill Self decided to replace C Tarik Black in the starting lineup with Embiid. Through 16 games this season, Embiid has exploded on the scene. As one of the most agile big men to ever play the game, Embiid averages 10.9 points on nearly 70% shooting from the floor, 7.4 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks per game in just under 22 minutes player per game. Embiid’s lack of minutes stem from his constant foul trouble that he exerts in almost every game, averaging 6.8 fouls per 40 minutes.
Embiid has three double-doubles on the season, all in home winning efforts. The seven-footer recorded a career-high 7 blocks versus UTEP in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas. Embiid’s career high for points (18) came in a home winning effort versus New Mexico and he recorded a career-high 13 rebounds in the Jayhawks winning effort over Iona.
Defensively, Joel Embiid is a complete monster around the rim. His volleyball background has aided him in the ability to see the ball and his coordination in making contact with the ball as it goes up. His ability is best displayed in this clip of a monster block Embiid made in a Kansas home blowout win over Georgetown:
In the Jayhawks most recent game against #8 ranked Iowa State, Embiid took a few minutes in the second half to showcase everything that speaks upside about the young man. Embiid made multiple post moves, scoring with ease, as well as shining as a rim protector and defender on the opposite end of the floor. Embiid finished that contest with 16 points, 9 rebounds, and 5 blocked shots before fouling out in the final minute of the game. Iowa State Head Coach Fred Hoiberg weighed in on his thoughts of Joel Embiid after their loss to Kansas in Ames:
“I think Embiid is the best player in the country,” Hoiberg said.
If Joel gave Bill Self just one more year to teach him more, he would be unstoppable. Unfortunately for Jayhawk fans, the probability of Embiid’s return for a Sophomore season becomes less tangible with every performance he puts on. Since the beginning of the season, Embiid followers all around the world expected him to be a lottery consideration, but as the story with the young Cameroonian goes, his stock just keeps rising.
In the latest release of NBA Draft guru Chad Ford’s Big Board, his Mock Draft Board for 2014, Embiid rose to the occasion, knocking his fellow teammate Andrew Wiggins from the top spot on the board. Embiid, who has caught numerous comparisons to another African native by the name of Akeem Olajuwon, has risen from a no-name, no skill foreigner to the game of basketball to the most sought after college basketball player in the nation.
Embiid embodied his “Inner Olajuwon” in a home game versus New Mexico this year, beautifully preforming the patented “Dream Shake”:
Chad Ford and Kevin Pelton praise Embiid’s ability as a finisher, converting on 70% of his shot attempts from inside the arc. Ford names Embiid as “one of the best finishers in college basketball in the past decade and a half.” Embiid currently resides as second in the nation in the advanced statistical plus-minus category. Also, when Embiid’s numbers are converted to NBA equivalency, the seven-foot Center’s stats bear a striking resemblance to former perennial Centers Anthony Davis and Nerlens Noel. His downsides, according to Ford and Pelton, include foul trouble and his age. At only 19 years of age, Embiid would be a young professional basketball player with minimal game experience. The media, as well as some GM’s, view Embiid as a “risky” pick, despite the fact that the numbers say otherwise.
Joel Embiid receives praise every direction he turns these days and most recently was spoken of by Head Coach Bill Self in a press conference Thursday:
On Joel’s opinion of his success:
“Joel is one of those few kids that actually sees things objectively about himself,” Self said. “He can study himself and say, ‘I should be doing this, I should be doing that,’ so I don’t think that his play would surprise himself.”
On Joel’s potential over the upcoming years:
“I think Joel has a chance to be an NBA All-Star.”
Self also added that 5-10 years from now, he can see Embiid as one of the best 24 players in the world:
“He has that potential but that doesn’t mean anything close to that right now. He’s just a kid trying to figure it out.”
Self on upcoming NBA decisions by his players:
“Too early to be talking about this,” Self said. “I would tell them to make a decision that’s best for their life.”
Self also adds he would just give them pros and cons and let them make their decision.
On Embiid and others returning next season:
“I wouldn’t hold my breath if I was a Kansas fan around here if the guys keep getting better.”
On Embiid’s increasing aggression and toughness:
“Jo has gotten much tougher and much more physical I would say since we started practicing without question,” Self said. “I don’t know that he (Embiid) enjoys the contact, but it doesn’t seem to bother him much anymore.”
The full press conference can be found via kusports.com.
The meat of the Kansas Jayhawks schedule, which is one of, if not THE toughest schedule in the nation, lies on the horizon as the Jayhawks have jumped out to a 3-0 start in conference play. From soccer and volleyball in Cameroon to the best collegiate basketball player in the U.S., Embiid has finally set the stage for his future. If the Cameroon native continues to perform at the level he has thus far, the remainder of his first and potentially last college basketball season could be a huge one and could ultimately end with his name being called first come June.
Joel Embiid and the Kansas Jayhawks are next in action Saturday afternoon at 3PM as the #9 Oklahoma State Cowboys travel to Lawrence.