It hasn’t taken Cameroon native Joel Embiid long to immerse himself in Kansas University’s basketball program.
The 7-foot freshman — who in a recent interview discussed the exploits of Jayhawk legend Wilt Chamberlain — on Wednesday invoked the name of a certain school located 85 miles down the road.
“Definitely,” Emibiid first said, asked if the Jayhawks’ 90-83 victory over Oklahoma would spark a 10-4 KU team that’s off to a 1-0 start in league play after dropping four of the last eight games. “The next game we have is K-State, our rival, so we definitely will be fired up. We’ll be trying to get another win.”
Bundled up in winter gear for his walk out of Norman’s Noble Center to the team bus, Embiid, who scored six points and grabbed six rebounds while playing 19 minutes Wednesday, didn’t have time to regale reporters with specifics of the Jayhawk-Wildcat rivalry.
That’s sure to come at a later date.
For now, he’s hoping one of his freshman buddies builds off of Wednesday’s breakout game and takes some momentum into Saturday’s game against the red-hot Wildcats (12-3, 2-0), set for a 1 p.m. tipoff in Allen Fieldhouse.
“I mean, that’s how we want him to play,” Embiid said of Wayne Selden, who scored a career-high 24 points off 9-of-17 shooting — 5-of-10 from three — versus Oklahoma. “The last practice he was showing us how he can play, so we knew it was coming.
“That’s the best thing about this team. Every game we have anybody who can step up, either Andrew (Wiggins) or Perry (Ellis), me, or Wayne, anybody can step up,” Embiid added.
Selden not only led the way offensively, but he provided an emotional lift in the second half when he dove for a loose ball in front of KU’s bench.
“That’s what we need to do. Coach likes that energy. We know what coach wants us to do,” Embiid said of Kansas coach Bill Self.
KU junior Naadir Tharpe applauded Selden as well.
“Just him being aggressive to start out the half gave everybody a boost,” said Tharpe, not specifying which half. Selden, a 6-5 guard from Roxbury, Mass., scored 15 of KU’s first 24 points to open the game, then had eight of KU’s first 10 to open the second half. “It started with defensive intensity the first half,” Tharpe noted.
Embiid a tweeting machine: Embiid, who may be the most entertaining Jayhawk on Twitter, wrote after the game: “Good win on the road tonight!!!!!! Glasses or not next game???? Haha.”
Embiid, who was elbowed in the eye at practice earlier in the week and wore goggles versus the Sooners, initially told reporters after the game he’d have to wear goggles Saturday vs. KSU.
Another tweet, from Jan. 4: “I’m starting ballet dancing lessons next week to improve my footwork<<<<<<
Tharpe excels: Tharpe, who had four points, three assists and three fouls the first half as KU led, 50-44 at halftime, exploded for 13 points in 13 minutes the second half.
Tharpe hit a three-pointer to stretch a 78-74 lead to seven points at 5:48. He hit a jumper to give KU a 83-75 lead at 4:56. He also hit five of six free throws in the final 2:41. He finished with 17 points, three assists and a turnover.
“It was something coach talked to me about in practice before we came out here,” Tharpe said of attacking more. “He was talking about watching film from last year and how aggressive I was getting into the lane and getting guys shots. He talked to me about that. I talked to myself.”
Tharpe said he was extra fired-up following Sunday’s home loss to San Diego State.
“We were going to try to get after it,” Tharpe said. “We have had a lot of lapses and downfalls. Losing at home, that’s something we don’t do. Everybody on the team looked at themselves in the mirror and understood, ‘This is Kansas basketball. We have to put in more effort and show more on the court.’”
The Jayhawks next meet a KSU team that has won 10 straight games and, like KU, has a road win in league. KSU has defeated Oklahoma State at home and TCU on the road.
“If you are able to go on the road and get a win, it gives us confidence in ourselves and know there will be less pressure at home,” Tharpe said. “We have fans in Allen Fieldhouse that are always helping us out. Getting a win on the road is what we need to start out the Big 12, and I’m happy we did that.”
KSU gets used to sound: Kansas State coach Bruce Weber had sound pumped into the Wildcats’ arena Thursday in preparation for Saturday’s game at KU.
“We did not do that last year, because coaches did not even know it was going to be that loud,” junior Thomas Gipson said of the noise generated by KU fans in the Jayhawks’ 83-62 win over KSU last Feb. 11 in Allen. “Today, we handled it pretty well. We were still focused and people were still communicating and trying to talk over the music and system. I feel like we did well.
“I told (the freshmen) it was going to be loud, but I feel like it is going to be loud anywhere we go. This is probably the toughest crowd that we are going to be in, so I just told them to not worry about the crowd and just play hard and focus on the court,” he added.
The draft: Chad Ford of ESPN.com updated the race for the No. 1 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft on Thursday.
“There are five to six players who are getting serious looks with the No. 1 pick. Though, based on my latest intel, it looks like (Duke’s Jabari) Parker, Wiggins and Embiid are the heavy favorites to take home the No. 1 pick,” Ford wrote.
Ford’s breakdown, including which teams might take Wiggins or Embiid with the top selection, is available at http://es.pn/1eJRuLo.