Joel Embiid’s story goes far beyond just being another regular college kid.
The Cameroon native had focused on soccer and volleyball throughout most of his life, until his ideal size and footwork brought him to the sport of basketball. He is listed at 6’9″ and has a 7’5″ wingspan (two inches longer than that of Nerlens Noel). At age 16, Joel decided he was going to try basketball.
The first time he ever played basketball, his teammates laughed at him. He made all sorts of funny mistakes, including tripping after a screen, getting hit in the stomach by a pass, and kicking the ball when trying to dribble. But coach Kevin Boyle had an inclination about just how great Joel Embiid could become and made sure that others were aware of it.
“Laugh all you want,” he said, “but in five years, you’re going to be asking him for a loan, because he’s going to be worth about $50 million.”
It looks like Boyle’s prediction may become reality, as Embiid has gone on to become one of the most wanted players in the country. Now the 7-footer is playing with the Kansas Jayhawks and is averaging 11 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks per game. He also is shooting a stunning 68% from the field as well as 67% from the charity stripe. Joel, along with Andrew Wiggins, has helped the Jayhawks reach 15th in the NCAA College Basketball Rankings.
Reporters got a chance to speak with Embiid during Kansas’ Media Day. There, he explained that his favorite role model is Hakeem Olajuwon, with good reason, too. Not only is Olajuwon from Africa, he also started playing basketball at the late age of 15.
Hakeem Olajuwon vs. Joel Embiid
Joel Embiid Lagos, Nigeria Hometown Yaoundé, Cameroon 7’0 Height 7’0 250 lbs. Weight 250 lbs. Age 15 1st year of organized basketball Age 16
Information from ESPN.com and NBA.com
Embiid has the potential to become the next great star of the NBA. He has a strong upper body, which allows him to crash with the bigger, more physical centers around the country. On defense he still has to develop but should be able to guard almost any center due to his strength and quick, agile movement. Per Sports Reference, he is averaging 4.7 blocks every 40 minutes of play. His rebounding is phenomenal because of his ability to rebound in traffic and use size and strength to his advantage.
Joel also has shown the ability to become a franchise player for an NBA team. According to Sports Reference, Embiid averaged .242 Win Shares Per 40 Minutes (WP40). That is higher than that of other top prospects, including Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, and Julius Randle.
Perhaps the biggest surprise, given his seven foot frame, is his quick moving feet. “It comes easy to him,” Kansas Coach Bill Self said. “He moves like a 6-footer with his feet. He can move in a way that very few guys in the past have been able to move. There’s a skill set there that very few 7-footers have.”
Despite only having a few years of experience, the coach believes he has a natural feel for the game.
“He has a natural feel, natural instincts. Of all the guys on our team, he’s the most instinctive basketball guy we have.”
It wasn’t until he finished his sophomore year in high school (July 2011), when he decided to attend a basketball camp hosted by Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, an NBA player who is also a Cameroon native. Despite rarely playing basketball, Luc saw the skills and potential Embiid had, naming him a top-5 performer at the camp. He then went on to attend the Basketball Without Borders camp in South Africa and continued to impress scouts with his performances. Despite wanting him to pursue volleyball, his father finally gave Embiid his blessing to play basketball. He was aware that basketball would take Joel away from the family as he would need to move to the United States.
“There was no sadness,” said Thomas Embiid, Joel’s father. “Coming to the USA was a huge opportunity for my son to establish himself. I kept pushing him to get his education and to play sports.”
Courtesy: Facebook Page of Joel Embiid
Despite his father’s support, leaving Cameroon was very tough for Embiid. Two years ago, he flew alone to Florida, and his family remained behind in Cameroon. He was leaving his home, not knowing when he would see his family again. In fact, Joel had a great situation in Cameroon, being a good academic student and playing as a great midfield in soccer and an intimidating, aggressive player in volleyball. He rarely had played or watched basketball due to its lack of popularity and was aware of how different the United States would be compared to his home country.
“Just imagine walking away from your whole family like that,” Embiid said. “It’s not easy.”
The next step for Embiid was getting recognized on a national level.
Thanks to Kansas’ Assistant Coach Norm Roberts, Head Coach Bill Self decided to travel down to Florida to watch the high school senior play in an open scrimmage. He definitely was not expecting a 7-footer that possessed attributes more typical of a guard, agility and cat-like reflexes.
“Well,” Roberts said after the scrimmage, “what do you think? I mean, I know he’s raw, I know he’s a project and all, but … “
Self cut his dialogue short.
“Are you frickin’ kidding me?” Self exclaimed. “This dude could be the No. 1 pick in the draft. He can run. He’s got good feet. He’s got touch. He’s unbelievable. He’ll be the best big man we’ve ever coached if we can get him.”
Following Bill Self’s decision to pursue Embiid, he went on to commit to Kansas University. He has improved as his freshman season has progressed and has been arguably the player with the most potential. He is also the number one pick on Bleacher Report’s Mock Draft and the number three pick on Chad Ford’s Mock Draft.
Joel Embiid is one of the most fascinating players in college basketball, and his path through college and the NBA will be remarkable.