Thursday, August 1, 2013


Opinion: Among talented newcomers, Joel Embiid is KU’s X factor

Kansas center Joel Embiid laughs during warmups before a scrimmage on Wednesday, June 12, 2013 at the Horejsi Center.

Kansas center Joel Embiid laughs during warmups before a scrimmage on Wednesday, June 12, 2013 at the Horejsi Center.



Kansas center Joel Embiid laughs during warmups before a scrimmage on Wednesday, June 12, 2013 at the Horejsi Center.

A certain amount of mystery always accompanies college athletes in their first seasons on campus. Even a recruiting class as accomplished as the one hauled in by basketball coach Bill Self comes with questions only performances in games against quality opponents can answer. Such as:

Will Andrew Wiggins display a soft-enough shooting touch to complement his explosive moves to the extent he leads the team in scoring?

Can Conner Frankamp defend well enough against much thicker, stronger players to earn significant playing time so that he can showcase his extraordinary range on such a pure jumper? Defensive readiness will also be the issue for how soon sweet-shooting Brannen Greene earns big minutes.

Will quick, strong pure point guard Frank Mason show enough confidence out of the chute to challenge Naadir Tharpe for the starting assignment? A year ago, the Michigan State game exposed freshman Perry Ellis as not yet ready to own a starting assignment.

Can’t think of any questions with Wayne Selden, an explosive 6-foot-4, 225-pound wing armed with a pure three-point touch, except the one that can be asked of any freshman: Will being surrounded by so much talent make him better, or will he struggle with not having everything revolve around him?

Interesting issues to monitor, all of them, but without question the most compelling development to watch will be that of center Joel Embiid, so remarkably talented and so very new to the game. He qualifies as this team’s X factor and the burning question boils down to this: Can Embiid — a smart, coordinated, naturally skilled athlete — progress in one season from a “See Jane run. Run, Jane, run” understanding of basketball enough to win battles against comparative Tolstoy scholars?

Nobody seems to doubt he one day he will make an exceptional NBA center, and that’s part of what makes the essential question about him so difficult to answer. His ceiling is so high that he will get picked extremely high in the draft as soon as he’s eligible, after his freshman season.

How high?

Rick Pitino, coach of defending national champion Louisville, said, “I think Kansas could have the No. 1 and No. 2 picks in the draft with Wiggins and Embiid. (Embiid) does everything.”

But will he already be able to do it on the blocks, where most of his opponents will be shorter, but also more in tune with the sumo-wrestling moves required to establish position the way the game is played today?

A 7-foot, 250-pounder from Cameroon who played soccer and volleyball — oh, no, will the announcers mention the volleyball connection every time he blocks a shot, a la Jeff Withey? — Embiid was born to play basketball, he just didn’t know it until he took up the sport competitively just two years ago.

At a similar stage in his career, Hakeem Olajuwon (then spelling his first name Akeem) averaged 8.5 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.5 blocks in 18.2 minutes per game for the University of Houston. Nice production for a red-shirt freshman and former soccer goalie who picked up basketball at 15. He quickly developed into one of the greatest centers in the history of the game. If Embiid could match Olajuwon’s freshman numbers, sometimes playing with senior Tarik Black, sometimes instead of him, that would portend future stardom for the friendly shot-blocker.

Embiid is fortunate to play at a school that qualifies as one of the best big-man camps on the planet because he competes against other quality post players daily, but he has so little experience.

Skilled and athletic, smooth and long-limbed, Embiid has all the qualities that one day could translate to greatness. Watching whether that day will come soon enough to help Kansas significantly qualifies as the most compelling aspect of this coming season, which is packed with fascinating story lines to track.


Robert Brock 8 months, 2 weeks ago

We hear that Embiid can rebound and play some defense (block shots). Can Embiid provide anything on offense? I'm going to guess that he won't as a freshman.


John Fitzgerald 8 months, 2 weeks ago

Embiid will have an immediate impact and likely only be around one year. The reason I say this is he has more natural athletic ability than the other bigs we've had and he doesn't have as much competition ahead of him on the lineup. Black was a big pickup for us, but mainly to help train Embiid. If he can put on some muscle, play strong defense, and move his feet quick then he's going to be a starter. This guy only has an upside to him and as the year progresses he will turn into a star. I honestly think he has the potential to be compared to Anthony Davis.


Hawklin 8 months, 2 weeks ago

How about the fact JoJo, along with Selden and Perry are at Adidas nations????? Stop regurgitating online articles and do your own work. The most hyped KU basketball team is right down the street. Try to follow along.


AZHawk72 8 months, 2 weeks ago

This has to be one of Coach Self's toughest coaching years to date. Yeah, there's talent, but most of it is raw. Yeah, there's depth, but how does he keep all these guys happy with playing time. Sure, Embiid will get playing time because Black has a history of foul issues. While it's good to see Tharpe nailing some three balls, I hope we don't need him to do so given the supporting cast.

I'm not trying to be negative, but I think this year may hinge more on the development of Mason and Greene than those more frequently mentioned. And I can't wait to see Selden guarding Smart. With both loving to drive more than a NYC cabbie, every possession will resemble rush hour.

Tharpe needs to work on keeping his man in front of him more than drilling threes.


Jeffrey Nelson 8 months, 2 weeks ago

THE most compelling storyline? Maybe. It's either that or Wiggins, but you never know until the story is told.


KJD 8 months, 2 weeks ago

"See Big Blue Nation suck on it? Suck on it Big Blue Nation, suck." - Rick Pitino

For fun Pitino is poking Big Blue Nation in their collective eye hole with this Embiid comment just to rain on their 'best recruiting class ever' boasting parade. Whenever I read that Pitino quote about Embiid, this center has everything, and that Kansas has the top two picks in next years NBA draft, I can't help but think that he's saying it just to take some shine off of what he is hearing, I'm guessing fairly frequently in one way or the other, about Kentucky having the best recruiting class ever ever ever. Maybe this has been chatted about already on these boards though it feels a little less about Embiid to me–though he is indeed a big time talent with huge upside– than Rick is adding onto his swirly that he put on his former school: Wildcats have worse season since the Sutton Years (or perhaps Rick's first year), Rick wins it all with in-state rival Louisville (Louisville! The traitor!!), Rick thinks that KU has a better class this year than UK, at least he thinks they have the best two NBA prospects, so Big Blue can suck on that too.


Ryan Patti 8 months, 3 weeks ago

You can't say Embiid is an x-factor when he might not even start next year over Tarik Black. Also, Embiid has only played 3 YEARS OF BASKETBALL IN HIS ENTIRE LIFE. He will be staying at KU for 3-4 years to develop his game on both sides of the ball, so he is not only a shot-blocker. I love Embiid, like he is a beast, but he is not the x-factor especially with Wiggins and Selden on the team. He will be in the future though. Mark my word.


KULA 8 months, 3 weeks ago

I suspect Bill will severely limit Embild's minutes, judging him to be too raw. After one season of playing less than 8 min/game, the NBA, recognizing his talent, will draft him as a lottery pick.


TexiCaliHawk 8 months, 3 weeks ago

Obviously, I'm ecstatic we signed Wiggins and believe he will indeed live up to the 'hype'; however, after watching the Mickey D's game, I am feeling great about Selden as he appears to be so confident (a la Marcus Smart) which will help our 'young guns' adjust from the high school to college game.

I haven't seen enough tape on Embiid to make an informed comment as this point -- and not to generalize -- but if he can play a similar role to what Niang did for Louisville, that may be enough for us this year. I was a bit skeptical of us signing Black (mostly given his lack of FT shooting and seeming regression at Memphis); however, it sounds like he is a beast who is highly motivated to make this year count.

Finally, I do believe Tharpe will have progressed to the 'point' where he can run/lead the team, but I am very intrigued by the many weapons he will have at his disposal . . . trey-ball potential of both Frankamp and Greene (and maybe AWIII) to complement the athleticism and slashing potential of Wiggins and Selden as well as low block post-up potential of Ellis and Black (and maybe Embiid).

Who else has that type of versatility on Offense? So, despite all of Keegan's many questions posed above, really the only major question in my mind is whether HCBS can get this collection of 5-Star 'talent' to play together as a TEAM -- specifically, on Defense which has been a hallmark of our success over the past 10 years.

While I'm not a betting man, I would be tempted to wager that HCBS will indeed obtain the necessary 'buy-in' from the TEAM to mold themselves into a top flight Defensive team to match their incredible Offensive skill sets by the time March rolls around. At KU, Defense always starts our Offense -- getting us into transition and easy buckets that fuel the big 16-2 runs we have become famous for.

Bring on 'Boot Camp' and then let the SHOW begin!


Michael Luby 8 months, 3 weeks ago

Actually Jaybate said something earlier about Wiggins' ability to shoot treys this year could be just as big a question and just as crucial to our season. I tend to agree with that line of thought.
Personally I hope Naa, Wigs and Selden both can shoot the 3 at around 38-40%, knock down their FT's with consistency, that JoJo has a great season at KU but isn't ready to jump to the League after we win our 10th straight Big 12 title and our 4th NCAA Crown.


Adam James 8 months, 3 weeks ago

Selden will lead this team in scoring and he will be Big 12 Freshman of the Year. There is a good possibility he might even be National Freshman of the Year. He will be a little out of control at times, but wait and watch how much of an impact he is going to have on this team. Not just from an offensive standpoint, but the defensive end as well. RCJH!!


William Blake 8 months, 3 weeks ago

It's hard for me to believe Embiid will be ready to suit up for the NBA next year. I have little doubt that we'll have a great year and plenty of attention will come his way, helping to propel his status for the draft.

So if he goes to the league next year, and then sputters around for a couple of years while he learns more of the game.... does that help our reputation of being a "big man school" or hurt us? (I guess I'm talking about with future recruits)

Compare that to having him stay in school at least one more year, and leaving better prepared for the league...

From our past experience of those leaving early... has it helped or hurt our rep?

Personally, I don't see where we have any more legs to stand on than Cal when we hold a guy for just a year. No one really believes that single year made a difference in a young, gifted athlete's career.

Then maybe we need to have a coach doing more of the things Cal does... better connecting with people in the league and staying busy promoting players to the league, half way acting like an agent for the players.


justanotherfan 8 months, 3 weeks ago

The cutoff for Embiid being a lottery pick is pretty simple - 12 points, 8 rebounds, 3 blocks. If he puts up those numbers, he's a definite lottery pick. If he backs that off in points, but adds a couple rebounds (say, 9 points, 11 rebounds, 3 blocks), he's still a lottery pick because being an exceptional rebounder/ defender is worth a ton.

And that's the thing. Embiid isn't going to be expected to be a great offensive player, even at the next level. He has some basic moves and a decent jumpshot, but that's not why he's going to make a ton of money as a pro. His shot blocking, mobility and rebounding is why he's going to play 12 or more years in the NBA if he stays healthy.

He can do that now. I fully expect to enjoy Embiid's one year of double figure rebounds and 3-4 blocks every night, then applaud him for being a top 5 NBA draft pick, reload next year at KU and start the whole process over again.


FearlessJayhawk 8 months, 3 weeks ago

It's quite possible that KU could have three lottery picks next year, Embiid, Selden and Wiggins.


Brandon Deines 8 months, 3 weeks ago

Dear Kansas fans:

KU's starting 2 guard this year will be Wayne Selden. Please note the spelling of his last name. There is not an "o" in his name. It is Selden, NOT Seldon. For the love of god, please figure this out.




BucknellJayhawk3 8 months, 3 weeks ago

Question about recruiting: looks like we are recruiting like 15 of the top 20 prospects and we've given offers to a lot of them. We may only have 2-3 scholarships free next year, does this mean we rescind our offer on any of the recruits or is it first come first serve?


Colofan 8 months, 3 weeks ago

Did Tyler Self sign with the Miami Heat? I see that he is no longer listed on the KU Sports roster. How many can be on the roster? Thanks.


kennethst 8 months, 3 weeks ago

I'm just a tad bit excited for this season. Anyone else?

PS-The joys of combining parenthood and Jayhawks. .......Tonight......My 3 year old little angel has invited me to the outside patio for dinner with Winnie-the -Pooh, Eyeore,her stuffed baby Jayhawk and "big" Jayhawk. ......Should be a lively conversation with such distinguished guests!


Tony Bandle 8 months, 3 weeks ago

And having the Number One and Number Two drafted players be Jayhawks is bad for recruiting WHY??????

I know that losing this talent will hurt but look at what it will do for the mindset of every high school senior, junior and sophomore basketball stud out there. We could become K"OAD"U without the cheating and rap stars!!!

Think of a bevy of new high school studs coming in every year mixed with a balance of 3/4 year guys. Self & Company could have Final Four teams for years!!

I know, I's not the KU way but you know what??!! I used to be able to work on my own there's no friggin' way. This sport is changing, so why not grab the lead wave and beat everybody to the beach???!!!!


Bewareofthephog Fifety-Five 8 months, 3 weeks ago

We may have the top picks in the next two drafts with Wiggins in 2014 and Embiid in 2015.
It could have been three in a row if the cavaliers were smart enough to take McLemore as number one.


hooligan42 8 months, 3 weeks ago

Do we want Embiid gone after one season? Maybe,... that means he was everything he could be. That means he was better than all other centers we will face in the non-conference games. That means we won our tenth straight big 12 championship, (and maybe the big 12 tourney), and that means we went to (at least) the final four. Most importantly that would give the biggest incentive for the next recruits, namely okafor, alexander and jones, to come to Lawrence. I don't believe we have any chance for those upcoming recruits if we have the depth at each position like we do now.


Boouk 8 months, 3 weeks ago

I think PG play is this teams X-factor. Embiid will be a top 5 pick in the 2015 draft after breaking out his Sophmore season.


REHawk 8 months, 3 weeks ago

If JoJo is not a "guaranteed" top 3 lottery selection, I think he should stick with Self and Co. until he is. The moment I watched him send Kentuckys vunderlug Randall reeling into the first row of seats, I figured that summertime pro scouts would be licking their chops.


Ron Franklin 8 months, 3 weeks ago

Yes, Wiggins will display the soft touch. No, Frankamp will not be able to stay on the floor and guard. No, Greene will not earn BIG minutes. No, Frank Mason needs a year in the system to develop the confidence to run this team. Yes, Selden will fit right in, and Embiid will be gone after one. Ellis and Wiggins will average 14 ppg, and the Hi Low is going to operate like a smooth criminal this year. Naa’ is going to prove that he has matured like “a 40 year old Man” a la Gundy; he’ll handle it. And Self will guide them to Title IX.

Pet Peeve/SoapBoxtime: I realize they have only provided the spelling of their names around 250 times each since March, but just in case you missed it. It’s Selden and Wiggins. Not Seldon and not Wiggens. How about just enough courtesy to spell their names correctly? I would expect this from a Missouri or Kentucky grad, but not a Jayhawk.


Hawk8086 8 months, 3 weeks ago

Unfortunately for us, the NBA drafts players based on potential. Embiid could have one year where he plays 20 min. or so per game, has decent numbers (as mentioned in the article) and become a lottery pick based on potential.


Brianna Zaleski 8 months, 3 weeks ago

: Can Embiid — a smart, coordinated, naturally skilled athlete — progress in one season from a “See Jane run. Run, Jane, run” understanding of basketball enough to win battles against comparative Tolstoy scholars?


It's either too early and that one flew straight over my head, or Keegs has been hanging out in the Lawrence coffee shops too long... Keegs, put down the triple mocha, close your laptop and go home. That 130lb, wafer thin, philosophy graduate assistant is not who you should be getting input from for your columns!


Jim Erickson 8 months, 3 weeks ago

Another comment on Embiid... With his talent and size, I see him having one impact year before he goes top 5 in the draft. He has major talent, upside, and a perfect body for a center and guys like that don't stick around. I don't see it being year one (I'd be thrilled if it did) but I do see him being a force at some point as a Jayhawk.


Jim Erickson 8 months, 3 weeks ago

This won't be a popular comment, but I think it's a perspective that needs to be considered. Joel Embiid has long term project written all over him. He looks like a guy that will be a big time center, especially defensively, but that doesn't mean he will be stellar as a freshman. He has been playing basketball for a very short time and big men rarely make big impacts as freshman for Self.

If he can come in an be a solid player as a freshman then I'll be thrilled. I expect huge things immediately out of Ellis, Wiggens, and Tharpe. Seldon looks a bit more polished and may hit the ground running. I see Joel Embiid taking time just like Aldrich, the Morris Twins, Withey, Robinson, Kaun, and the list goes on. If Embiid is a rotation guy that averages 5 points and 4 rebounds a game this year then we need to be fine with that.


jaybate 8 months, 3 weeks ago

Tom asks more questions than a soap opera.

Remember soap operas?

Did their sudden mass extinction signal the end of America as we knew it?

Has any society lost so many hours of entertainment so suddenly and not descended into barbarism?

Can a society produce great movie actors without an entertainment D League like the soaps?

Can the Internet and reality TV make us get better?

Or will Joel Embiid be gone before then?


Joe Joseph 8 months, 3 weeks ago

I'm going to be very sad if the bulk of this recruiting class doesn't stay together for at least two seasons. But it's true. Even a decent season and Embiid will probably be gone.


Priest Fontaine 8 months, 3 weeks ago

Did Selden lose an inch? Players usually gain an inch at KU. Thought he'd easily be 6'6" by now ;)


BainDread 8 months, 3 weeks ago

Cue RJ Cogburn begging for a football article...3....2....1.....


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