Kansas' Joel Embiid a secret no more


LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Here's a list of the things that Joel Embiid can do, a sampling of the skills that have NBA scouts salivating over the Kansas big man: He can move his feet like a swift-footed guard, or the soccer player he once was.

He protects the rim better than anyone has in years -- yes, Anthony Davis included, according to one scout -- and has an almost intuitive knack for blocking shots.

He has soft hands and a soft touch.

He has great balance and grace, moving with ease and fluidity, lacking the stiffness or awkwardness that so many big men are saddled with.

He has a basketball IQ that can't be taught, a sixth sense of where to be when, even though he's been playing the game for only a handful of years.

Here's one thing Joel Embiid can't do:

He can't drive a car.

He's tried to learn at least four times, but every time the Cameroonian slides behind the wheel, he gets nervous, his heart racing to the point of a panic attack. The last time he tried, a few months ago now, he headed to a parking lot with a friend. Embiid started to drive around and then he spied a police car making a routine drive-by while patrolling the area.

"It wasn't good," Embiid said in his French-accented English. "I was like, 'What should I do?' I completely panicked. It was crazy."

The really crazy thing is Embiid's inability to operate a motor vehicle may impact what he does next season more than all of his abilities with a basketball.

The "other" Kansas freshman suddenly has become The Freshman in the country. Embiid's face wasn't on the preseason rookie class Mount Rushmore, but he's managed to not just chisel his way into the picture, but also pretty much cut everyone else out of the frame. Most draftniks, scouts and NBA GMs think that come June, Embiid -- not teammate Andrew Wiggins or Kentucky's Julius Randle or Arizona's Aaron Gordon or Duke's Jabari Parker -- will be the No. 1 pick.

If, that is, he's there.

Which is where the car comes in.

"One day I was talking to [Kansas head coach Bill Self] and I was like, 'Yeah, I don't even know how to drive yet.' Eating healthy. I don't know how to do that yet," Embiid said. "I don't know if I feel like I'm ready for all of this."

Now before Kansas fans start hyperventilating about the thought of Embiid and Cliff Alexander (ranked No. 3 on the ESPN100 list of recruits) on the same roster, Embiid didn't say he was coming back.

He just said he wasn't sure he was ready. Yet it's that bit of self-awareness that truly makes Embiid special and any prediction for his future a little more difficult. This isn't a kid raised on the dream of the NBA, who spent his childhood thinking about posterizing Kobe or trading high-fives with LeBron. He didn't travel the summer-league circuit since infancy, waiting to get noticed. Until a fateful intervention, the only pro career he could envision was "maybe Europe for volleyball."

I said to my wife, Cindy, the other morning, wouldn't it have been a shame if someone didn't see him over there?

--Kansas coach Bill Self

And now that the gilded path is unfolding underneath his size 17s, he'll approach it as he does everything -- deliberately and carefully.

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