Monday, January 13, 2014

Column: Embiid shows Hilton crowd his version of magic

Hoiberg: KU 7-footer best player in nation

Kansas center Joel Embiid delivers a dunk against Iowa State during the first half on Monday, Jan. 13, 2014 at Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa.

Kansas center Joel Embiid delivers a dunk against Iowa State during the first half on Monday, Jan. 13, 2014 at Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa.


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Press Conferences & Post-Game Interviews

KU coach Bill Self after Jayhawks' huge, 77-70 victory at Iowa State

KU coach Bill Self after Jayhawks' huge 77-70 victory at Iowa State

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Box Score

— Ball on the baseline, nowhere to go and still he reached somewhere, taking a route not often chosen by 7-footers. Joel Embiid weaved through traffic on the edge of the court and seemingly found himself in a jam, buried under the hoop, surrounded by Iowa State’s biggest bodies.

Embiid’s creativity doesn’t die that easily. In that regard, he is Todd Reesing, plus a foot and change. Embiid jumped up, stretched his arm out and laid the ball in with his back to the basket. Then he went down to the other end of the floor and instead of merely blocking Dustin Hogue’s shot, he ripped the ball right out of his hands, gave it to a ballhandler and raced to back to the right baseline. 

Just in case the 14,384 spectators in Hilton Coliseum — most of whom had never seen the basketball prodigy trained on the soccer pitches and volleyball courts of Cameroon play — missed it the first time, Embiid pretty much gave them a replay. Two more points to help Kansas on the way to a 77-70 victory.

Even on a night when Naddir Tharpe played with fire in his eyes and on his shooting hand, a night Andrew Wiggins flashed insane quickness and snared 19 rebounds, the Jayhawks needed a big second half from Embiid to survive 24 turnovers.

They’ll always need the advantage his size and fancy footwork bring them. When he’s on his game, nobody can stop him, except himself. And for the second game in a row, this time not as blatantly, Embiid got in his own way and was tagged with a technical foul. No ejection, so that’s progress. But progress isn’t good enough. He must learn how not to take the bait.

Kansas State wrote the book on Embiid: Rough him up, expose him to a style foreign to his artistic way of playing the game. Keep roughing him up until he responds without subtlety. Iowa State read the book and applied the lessons from it.

The art of getting away with retaliation is nearly impossible to master, even for Embiid, who showed the Hilton crowd so much magic.

As referees studied the monitor, Embiid faced Bill Self’s firing squad of questions again. He tried to explain that he didn’t throw to the floor the guy who had been roughing him up. He demonstrated that he was falling backward and merely reached his hand out to steady his balance. Self didn’t seem to be buying it.  The refs definitely didn’t see it that way.

The monitor showed him doing just what he demonstrated to his coach and then tossing the player to the floor, not all that forcefully, but with enough purpose to land himself on the bench for a long stretch.

How much does Kansas need Embiid not making plays that take him out of the lineup even if just for a few minutes of sitting in the corner? Listen to what Iowa State’s coach said when asked about KU’s young personnel.

“I think they’re all very good players,” Hoiberg said. “I think Embiid’s the best player in the country.”


“You see him play tonight?” Hoiberg asked with a sarcastic edge. “That’s why. He’s huge and he’s got great length. He can shoot, and he’s got incredible footwork, and he’s been playing the game for about two years (three).”

Embiid’s boundless footwork amazes everyone who watches him and he’ll keep adding combinations that might have made the late Michael Jackson in his prime trip over himself. Embiid does need to lose one bit of footwork, however. The graceful, gentlemanly giant needs to lose that step out of character opponents baited him into the past two games, both impressive victories.

Kansas coach Bill Self said the coaches “got after him pretty good” at halftime because he, “hasn’t been very good the past few games. He was fabulous in the second half.”

Embiid finished with 16 points, nine rebounds, five blocked shots, two assists, two steals and seven turnovers. He scored 12 of the 16 points in the second half, when his rim protecting played a huge part in Iowa State shooting .243 from the field in the final 20 minutes.

Embiid shared a little of what Self told him after his technical: “He told me not to lose my cool.”

Good idea, because losing is so much easier to avoid with Embiid on the floor.


Dirk Medema 7 years, 10 months ago

The book is out on Embiid and Ellis. Both are graceful players that don't seem to play as well against a physical opponent - especially Ellis.

That being said, it is amazing to see how much the team has developed in just a couple months.

Benz Junque 7 years, 10 months ago

Ellis had some soft moments last night but improved near the end of the game. There were a few times where he went up soft and should have dunked it. He still seems to lack the athletic jumping explosiveness that he needs. For a guy 6'8" he doesn't seem to be able to get enough jump to throw down a dunk when in traffic. It's strange to see.

Steve Corder 7 years, 10 months ago

Sorry, but the book is not "out" on Embid, and I would argue the same for Ellis. What do you want from a freshman and sophomore?

RJ King 7 years, 10 months ago


1) Ellis has a long torso - his legs are not particularly long relative to his height, thus he does not have the "colt-like" appearance of another 6-8" teammate, Wiggins.

2) Ellis sports a beard, and has the beginnings of a receding hairline.

3) He has a low forehead, unlike the higher forehead (and more youthful appearance) of Wiggins, Lucas, Greene, or - remember Releford? (same hairline, higher forehead.) Lower face and jaw development continues into our 20's, thus we associate higher foreheads and weaker chins with children, and the opposite with adults.

4) We read age or maturity into his calm, poker-face demeanor, because we associate youth with a childlike display of emotion or energy.

5) KU fans followed Ellis well before he committed. Sometimes it seems he's been a Jayhawk for many years.

6) Ellis and Tharpe are the only familiar faces playing significant minutes. They seem old by comparison to all the newbies.

7) We had three 5th year seniors last year, and became used to the way they played the game. On a subliminal level, we replace their play with that of Ellis and Tharpe, but do not replace our expectations.

Malcolm Gladwell's "Blink" details what we perceive in a blink of an eye, and how that information is processed by our brains. I think that often - in a "BLINK" Ellis appears to be ANCIENT, when in fact he's a 19 year old kid in his first year as a starter, with new teammates.

Jonathan Allison 7 years, 10 months ago

Dagger, Ellis missed a lot of shots that he typically makes, soft hook shots with both hands. Open jumpers from 15-17 feet. Free thows. None of his go to moves were working.

Maybe you're right and the physicality of the game got in his head early, but I'm not quite ready to buy it. He's too level headed, and too clear a thinker to let the opponent get to him.

He just gets in his own way too much. He needs to have a magic eraser for his brain. Every time that he touches the ball is a clean slate.

ISU's "bigs" are not tough enough to stop Perry Ellis. We've seen him battle and score at will against bigger, stronger, tougher competition. I was flabbergasted in the first half that he wasn't able to maximize his size advantage into easy offense. Looking at the two teams when they were lined up for free throws, it was almost comical how much bigger we were down low than ISU.

Robert Brock 7 years, 10 months ago

Ellis is a finesse player. His toughness will step up as he spends more time gaining strength and bulk. Coach Hudy will see to it.

Michael Leiker 7 years, 10 months ago

Pretty game by Embiid, but 1/1 TO/FGM ratio. Was he really that productive?

Michael Leiker 7 years, 10 months ago

Oh yeah, gave up an unnecessary technical also?

Jonathan Allison 7 years, 10 months ago

when he's good, he's great, and when he's bad we just write it off as inexperience.

Ron Franklin 7 years, 10 months ago

We don't win that game without Embiid, in my opinion.

Jeremy Paul 7 years, 10 months ago

How many rebounds did Ellis have ripped right out of his hands? 4? 5? He reminded me of Withey from 3 years ago. Robert- you're right about Hudy helping him out, but it can't happen soon enough. And at least 3 of his missed shots would have been makes if he'd dunk the ball. Maybe he could learn something from Black and Traylor.

Kit Duncan 7 years, 10 months ago

Jo-jo needs to get his mind off the football (soccer) pitch. His moves, some for position and the ones for retaliation are reminiscent of someone playing soccer. Soccer players get away with grabbing, shoving and elbowing far more than NCAA basketball players, especially in the Big XII.

The Big East has always played a more physical game and officials allow more roughness. Perry Ellis was the victim of some of that roughness. Jo-jo will learn that he will be a target and needs to play 'his" game and not be goaded into cheap fouls.

Benz Junque 7 years, 10 months ago

Embiid found himself frequently in trouble due to the Shaq factor. He was simply much larger and stronger than the guys guarding him. When they they banged into him, nothing happened but when he banged into them they went flying and a foul was called against Embiid. Simple experience with this will help him learn to be more subtle with smaller sized players. He has good enough footwaork and speed to get around them instead of always trying to fight through them.

Embiid was called for an offensive foul one time where he simply got in position and raised his arms. His defender tried to fight around to front him and simply rammed into him and fell down and Embiid was called for a foul. It's ridiculous but refs get baited into that bad call all the time on bigs. I watched Shaq get called for that a million times.

Ross Hartley 7 years, 10 months ago

Shaq IMHO was horrible for basketball. His size allowed him to move people without regard to position. He was not called for those moves until late in his career. NBA ball has deteriorated into a grab, pull and push game. NCAA ball was heading in the same direction until the new rules were implemented.

Mike Barnhart 7 years, 10 months ago

That makes a lot of sense, nice observation! I'll add this; he LOVES basketball and that passion leads to losing his cool once in a while.

Most D1 players are AAU veterans that have lived in the gym since early elementary school. Their passion for basketball has mellowed over time. Embiid's love of the game is still in the honeymoon phase. He can't believe how much fun it is. When his competitive juices get flowing he get's over amped and occasionally snaps.

Reggie Flenory 7 years, 10 months ago

The book is not out on joel becuz soon as u think u got em here come the rest of the jayhawks good luck tryin to stop em all

Mark Lindrud 7 years, 10 months ago

The book is out on Joel: Tall, very athletic, great quickness, versatile, great defender, needs to keep his cool, great passer, intense, great shot blocker, the cog to our wheel who makes everyone better when he is in. If you want to know more buy my next book: The book on Joel 2!

Tony Bandle 7 years, 10 months ago

No thanks..but I will buy a date with your avatar!

Bruce Beckum 7 years, 10 months ago

I pretty much never complain about officiating, but some of those fouls (especially against Niang) were blatant flops. However, Joel needs to know that, like the Morris twins and even T-Rob, once you develop a reputation for that kind of play, the refs are more likely to make the call against you.

However, walking out of Hilton with a win is huge. HUGE! Rock Chalk!

Bruce Beckum 7 years, 10 months ago

Hey Keegs: I keep hearing different versions of Embiid's hoops experience, from "never touched a basketball until three years ago" (doubtful) to "never played organized hoops until three years ago" (more likely). What's the real story? Thanks and great column.

Andy Tweedy 7 years, 10 months ago

I love Joel Embiid, and all the 'Hawks, but if I have to put my two cents in for best player in the country, I'm going with Doug McDermott at Creighton. That dude is a beast, and isn't lost in the Mo Valley any more. He's just tearing it up in a much better league this year, and you just don't hear much about him it seems.

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