Sunday, December 8, 2013

Warm Florida welcome awaits Joel Embiid

Kansas center Joel Embiid turns for a shot against Colorado forward Dustin Thomas during the first half on Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013 at the Coors Events Center in Boulder, Colorado.

Kansas center Joel Embiid turns for a shot against Colorado forward Dustin Thomas during the first half on Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013 at the Coors Events Center in Boulder, Colorado.



Kansas center Joel Embiid turns for a shot against Colorado forward Dustin Thomas during the first half on Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013 at the Coors Events Center in Boulder, Colorado.

Justin Harden wishes he could get his hands on dozens of tickets for the Kansas University-Florida Big 12/SEC Challenge basketball showdown at 6 p.m. Tuesday in O’Connell Center in Gainesville, Fla.

As it stands, Harden — KU freshman Joel Embiid’s former coach at The Rock School in Gainesville — has just a couple tickets to distribute for the clash between the Gators (6-2) and Jayhawks (6-2).

“This is a hot ticket in town, to say the least,” said Harden, instrumental in the development of KU’s Embiid as a skilled basketball player. Embiid, who took up basketball in Cameroon at the age of 15, attended The Rock last season after attending Montverde (Fla.) Academy his junior year.

“I’m not even able to take my players to the game. Normally for home games, I’m pretty much able to get tickets. This game I think I can get a couple tickets for myself and our coaching staff. They say it’ll be packed (capacity 11,548). We’ll see. It’s not going to be Allen Fieldhouse. There should be a good crowd nonetheless.”

Many on hand will be rooting for Embiid, KU’s 7-footer who averaged 13.0 points, 9.7 rebounds and 1.9 blocks for The Rock, which went 33-4 and won the school’s first Sunshine Independent Athletic Association title last year. Embiid had 14 rebounds and 10 points in the state title game.

“I think everybody is excited to see Joel play close by,” Harden said of Embiid, who has averaged 9.3 points and 6.6 rebounds this season, emerging as a possible — or is it probable? — top-five pick in the 2014 NBA Draft.

“It’s a shock to say the least to know we have an alumnus from our small little school in Gainesville that could be a No. 1 pick or a lottery pick. In all reality, we haven’t had an NBA player come from our school. We have a pretty decent basketball program that is continuing to build. Scottie (Wilbekin, 6-2 Florida senior) is an alumni. He is the first one who was big-time. Scottie has a chance to make an NBA roster probably next year.

“It’s neat to know Joel is getting so much attention. I think rightfully so. He is really talented. God created him special and unique, that’s for sure,” Harden added.

Embiid is looking forward to the homecoming of sorts.

“It will be fun seeing my friends,” said Embiid, who hopes to make it over to The Rock sometime today, perhaps in time to attend a night game against Orlando’s West Oaks Academy. The Rock had the date of that game switched from Tuesday to Monday so Rock fans/Embiid supporters could attend the KU-Florida game.

“My host family, my teammates, my high school coach ... it will be fun to see them. I look forward to seeing them. I loved it there. I gained a lot of game experience there,” added Embiid, who played sparingly his junior year at Montverde Academy, which had Kentucky freshman Dakari Johnson manning the pivot. “I knew I would get better because the guys on our team were so good. We had a good group of guys, and winning state for the first time in school history was great. I got better every day in practice by competing. Coach Harden worked me, and I got a lot of minutes. I became confident.”

Embiid, a former soccer and volleyball player in Cameroon, came so far he finished last season as the Gainesville Sun’s co-Florida player of the year. He went from being unranked by to start the season to No. 25 and No. 6 by ESPN at the end.

“I don’t think I’m surprised,” Harden said. “From Day One when I saw him, I knew he had tremendous potential. I’m excited Joel has been able to work with the guys at Kansas and listen to what they want him to do and put all that into practice. I feel he’s growing. Every single game he seems to be getting a little bit better. That’s good for them (Jayhawks), but good for him, really.”

Embiid has a team-leading 17 blocks in eight games. He had a KU-freshman-record seven rejections against Villanova. Still learning the art of shot blocking, he had one in Saturday’s 75-72 loss at Colorado. He also had four rebounds and three steals in 28 minutes.

“That’s one of the things coach Roberts (Norm, assistant) talked to me about. They are trying to get him to block more shots,” Harden said. “He wasn’t a tremendous shot-blocker (in high school). He certainly had the ability. He volleyball-spiked a couple of balls last year. He wasn’t great at it.

“He’s just learning to play without fouling. That was a big point of emphasis for us last year with him. As you saw in the Villanova game (and at Colorado), he fouled out. That was kind of typical of what would happen here. He would get a foul on a screen. Then he’d get a foul on a blocked shot. We really wanted him to stay in the game, so it had to be a very calculated blocked shot. He’s getting much better at it, that’s for sure.”

Noted Embiid: “I mean, there’s no technique to block shots. I am already tall. I just have to jump straight up to block the shot. I would say it’s almost the same thing as volleyball (which he played extensively as youth). When I want to spike the ball, I have to jump straight up and spike the ball. Blocking is the same thing.”

Embiid, who speaks French, English and a dialect language of Cameroon, had no problem communicating in high school into college.

“Joel is a very intelligent young man. He was able to pick up on the language and all the intricacies early on,” Harden said. “When he was here, he was a little more to himself. But he had a lot of fun with his teammates. There were times he’d be cracking everyone up. Everyone likes him.”

That said, fans likely will be pulling for Embiid to have a good game, yet for Florida to win.

“Obviously we are in Gator country, Gator nation,” Harden said. “We don’t have much to cheer for with our football team as they were this year. So they definitely want Florida to win. I think everyone wishes Joel the best of luck in his return to Gainesville.”


Brianna Zaleski 7 years, 1 month ago

Joel, my boy, you don't need to jump to block shots. If he would learn to just stand there with his hands straight p in the air, he would alter/ block so many shots w/ out the fouls. He's very easy to bait w. pump fake. Why is he jumping? Just his presence alone, down there, is enough to deter a lot of would be shooters. If he gets a reputation as someone who I'll bil you out be fouling you, he's not going to deter anyone from coming into the pnt. In fact he ll invite the smaller guards to come in and get fouled and shoot ft's

Kent Richardson 7 years, 1 month ago

I think the conventional wisdom for 7 footers is to wait until the shooter jumps and then go up. I know Bill Russell 6' 9" did it that way. Don't worry about the fake and then use your wing span to achieve swat city.

Don Johnson 7 years, 1 month ago

Popular wisdom is that the way to get a foul on a shot blocker is to get into his body. Joel, there is a technique. If you watch our good shot blockers from past years, they kept shooters away at arms length and then went up straight. What Joel doesn't get yet, is the spacing for blocks.

Dirk Medema 7 years, 1 month ago

Sort of like shot blocking technique. That comment surprised me, especially if he has been studying Withey-tapes.

Lance Cheney 7 years, 1 month ago

Well we'll be there at the game! I'm in the area for a convention, and the old lady thought we should get tickets (best idea she's had). Hell, it was about a half to one-third of what we would pay for tickets at AFH. Hopefully there will be plenty of Jayhawk fans there. But we need to play better than what we have been, or this one could be ugly.

Nick Kersting 7 years, 1 month ago

did you have to buy the 3-pack? that's all I could find on-line so I got tickets for their Richmond and Tenn home games....all 3 combined were cheaper than the prices I have seen for AFH and our Georgetown game

Lance Cheney 7 years, 1 month ago

No, we just got on StubHub last week and bought a couple of tickets off of there. They were about $78 each, after fees and all that crap. Still a lot cheaper than what we can buy them for at home.

Robert Brock 7 years, 1 month ago

Bother shooters, block out, and get the rebound. We need to do a much better job of rebounding and soon.

Eliott Reeder 7 years, 1 month ago

How much zone has Florida been playing this year? Are they comfortable in it? I guess that doesn't really matter, since it was the first time to predominantly use zone for CU and that worked out just fine in their favor. Seasoned Self teams have been fantastic against zones. We used to carve zones up the last couple of years, even without hitting tons of threes. Hopefully these guys will start to figure it out. Also, I think Withey mastered the art of jumping backwards while blocking shots. He seemed to move AWAY from players driving at him and still blocked their shots. It was pretty amazing. He was also incredible at blocking shots from the help-side, to the point where nobody wanted to touch the paint against us last year. It was a beautiful and rare thing. Joel needs to keep watching those Withey tapes over and over again...

Robin Smith 7 years, 1 month ago

From his comments, Harden seems like a very nice man.

I'm looking forward to a good game, however the ball may bounce.

Bryce Landon 7 years, 1 month ago

Will the departure from Florida be as kind to Kansas as the welcome? That's what's most important.

Karen Collier 7 years, 1 month ago

Keys to K.U. Success: 1. Never, Never, Never play a zone with two under 6 foot players in a college team. 2. Realize a talented team must still be coached. 3. Stop looking like a summer travel team, run some plays for your 3pt shooters. 4. Work to improve our defense, Teams are shooting well against us.

Ryan Patti 7 years, 1 month ago

We need to see more of Selden and less of Mason. As good as Mason is, we can't afford the shots he puts up and the streaky defense he plays. In the tournament he will be the key. But now, to get things started, we need our best 5 out there for a majority of the game because the rotation is clearly throwing things off.

Kit Duncan 7 years, 1 month ago

Joel won't be able to use all of Withey's techniques. Jeff was able to put a hand on the ball handler as he moved to the basket and was often allowed to move players out of their routes with a little push. I think Jeff was given quite a few passes by officials in those instances.

Joel will be called for a foul every time if he puts a hand on the ball handler in the same way as Jeff did.

Aaron Paisley 7 years, 1 month ago

Embiid's defense was already improved significantly from the first exhibition game and will only get better as the year goes on. He's a smart enough player to figure out that going up to block a shot is nearly identical to blocking a spike in volleyball in that you have to go straight up and keep your arms straight up as well. He will also learn to not bite on a shot fake as he gains more experience. This kid is the true once in a generation type talent because I do believe Embiid has hall of fame potential and could be a top 10 center all time when his career is over. Nothing is guaranteed obviously, but I do fully believe that Embiid's ceiling is that high.

William Weissbeck 7 years, 1 month ago

At some point we are going to figure out the offense against a zone. At least I hope we do - otherwise Louisville, Syracuse and MSU are going to be tough for us to beat down the road. I believe UK is playing zone, but that may be because Calipari doesn't have time to coach defense. Where are our wings?

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