Kansas' Joel Embiid a secret no more

Embiid has been researching big men lately. Not the way he used to, back when he was trying to learn the game and used tapes of Hakeem Olajuwon as video tutorials. No, he's been looking at the game's best and surveying their college tenures:

Olajuwon, three years; Tim Duncan, four; Shaquille O'Neal, two.

"I was curious because I want to be great, I want to be the best at my position one day," he said. "I'm trying to learn everything and what other people did. All of the great big men went to college at least two or three years. I think it's a big factor. I don't know if it will always work, but I think it's the best choice."

Embiid's cerebral approach to his future doesn't surprise his college coach one bit. Self says without hesitation or hyperbole that Embiid and Wiggins are easily the best two players he's coached at Kansas, but he's never met anyone quite like Embiid.

Part of it is his upbringing and his unlikely road to America, to college basketball, to Kansas and, perhaps, to NBA stardom.

Embiid grew up in Cameroon with his parents, younger brother and sister, playing soccer and volleyball.

Had former UCLA player Luc Richard Mbah a Moute not spied Embiid at a camp, Embiid probably never would have played basketball.

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

Embiid has been in the United States for a little more than two years, been in the limelight even less time. So he's not a bored American teenager or a jaded American sports star. The first time he walked into a packed Allen Fieldhouse, back when he was being recruited, he just put his head down, overwhelmed and even a little embarrassed at all the attention.

Now that the spotlight has finally found him, now that students want to chat with him in class and reporters want to tell his story, Embiid is remarkably unaffected. He's funny and engaging, refreshingly candid and unguarded.

For a kid who admits he is still trying to master English, he is perfectly comfortable talking to just about anyone about anything.

"He's the best," Self said. "He wants to know everything. He's so naïve, in a very innocent way. Like certain guys can be naïve to the ways of the world, but he's naïve about everything -- what to eat, everything."

But what really separates Embiid has nothing to do with his upbringing or his naïveté. It's his intangibles. Embiid is hardly the first big man to come to the United States by way of a limited career in Africa. Nor is he first with the lithe body of a runner packed into a 7-foot frame.

He does stand alone, however, in his innate sense of how to play the game. He's almost a savant. Two months ago, Embiid wasn't quite sure how to block shots. Now with little instruction, he's become frighteningly good at it. Against Oklahoma State, he swatted eight. He paired those with 13 points and 11 rebounds to make him the first Big 12 freshman to put up that kind of stat line in a game.

Self recalled an early-season scrimmage. The ball was tossed into the backcourt and both Wiggins and Embiid, who were on defense, chased after the loose ball. Wiggins wound up beating his man and so he brought the ball back up, a defender on him and the ball.

  • 1
  • |
  • 2
  • |
  • 3
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...