Kansas Center Joel Embiid to Enter the 2014 NBA Draft
LAWRENCE, Kan. – Kansas freshman Joel Embiid has declared for the 2014 NBA Draft, the 7-0 center announced Wednesday in a formal press conference alongside head coach Bill Self at Allen Fieldhouse.
“I just want to thank God first for giving me this opportunity to come to the (United States) and play ball,” Embiid said. “I want to thank the coaching staff, my teammates, the fans – everyone that’s helped me through my journey. After thinking a lot, I’ve decided to declare for the NBA Draft.”
The 2014 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, Embiid broke the KU freshman record for blocked shots with 72 and his 2.6 blocked shots per game finished second in the league. Named to the 2014 All-Big 12 Second Team, Embiid led KU with 8.1 rebounds per game – also a KU freshman record – and good for sixth in the Big 12. The 7-0 Yaoundé, Cameroon, native averaged 11.2 points per game and his 62.6 field goal percentage broke yet another KU rookie record. Additionally, Embiid was named to the 2014 Freshman All-America Team, along with teammate Andrew Wiggins, by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association (USBWA).
Embiid was a two-time Big 12 Newcomer of the Week – Dec. 2, 2013 and Jan. 20, 2014 – and was named the Wayman Tisdale National Freshman of the Week and CBSSports.com National Player of the Week on Jan. 21, 2014 after averaging a double-double with 14.5 points and 10.0 rebounds to go along with 13 blocked shots in KU victories against then-top-10 opponents Iowa State (1/13) and Oklahoma State (1/18). Included was a KU freshman-record eight blocked shots against OSU.
On March 10, Kansas announced that Embiid would miss the final two regular-season games and the Big 12 Championship due to a stress fracture in his lower back. He was sidelined from KU’s two NCAA Tournament contests, as well. The injury does not require surgery. Embiid has continued a rehabilitation program and is progressing as scheduled.
BILL SELF: Welcome, again. I promise you, I don’t think we’ll be convening again next week at this same time, but certainly it’s only been a week since we had an announcement, and I know after a lot of thought and a lot of investigation looking into different scenarios, I think that Joel feels comfortable with letting everyone know what his intentions are, so we’ll turn this over to Joel.
JOEL EMBIID: Hey, guys. I just wanted to thank God for giving me this opportunity coming to the U.S. and playing ball. I just want to thank the coaches, the coaching staff, my teammates, the fans, my mentor, everybody that helped me through my journey here. After thinking a lot, I’ve decided to declare for the NBA Draft.
Q. When did you know this was the route you were going to go? When did you make this decision?
JOEL EMBIID: I made it this past weekend (on) Sunday.
Q. How did you come to the decision?
JOEL EMBIID: Just like Coach said, looking at different scenarios, gathering information, (deciding) what would be best for me. I mean, either way it was going to be best for me; but in talking to my mentor, I just made my choice.
Q. You’re a guy who hasn’t been playing basketball that long. You said how much you’ve enjoyed your time in Lawrence. How difficult was this decision for you? Obviously, it took you a while.
JOEL EMBIID: Yeah, like I said, I really love this place. The fans were crazy; just watching them before every game, three days before every game camping out, it means a lot. They showed me nothing but love. I’ll miss this place.
Q. What kind of conversation did you have with Joel leading up to this decision, whether it be last week or two weeks ago?
BILL SELF: Well, we talked quite a lot. I think Joel will tell you that. The biggest thing that I thought with Joel, I personally didn’t think he could make a bad decision. I don’t think anybody could say that Joel was making a poor decision by entering the draft because, under almost all circumstances, this would be the obvious move to make. The thing about it with Joel — I think what he was weighing — was that he’s still so young in the sport; he hasn’t been playing as long. Weighing what advantages that would bring to the table when he has pretty much a sure thing going with being drafted high.
The thing that I think we all want for Joel is for him to be happy and for him to be comfortable with his decision. We told him all along that if he leaves, that’s not going to make us mad, but that he should feel good about whatever decision he makes. Hopefully he does feel good about it, and I told him yesterday, ‘Don’t look back.’ Hey, it’s done. I mean, this is a decision you made, and don’t look back because he’s the type of young man that will look back because he feels like he’s maybe disappointed somebody. But the bottom line is he’s disappointed absolutely no one in our basketball program, and I don’t think he could have made a bad decision, but I think he made a real good decision.
Q. How difficult a transition is it going to be for him to the NBA given his lack of experience?
BILL SELF: I think it’s going to be hard. I think Joel is in for a fight, but I think it’s going to be a fun fight. We said the same thing about Andrew (Wiggins) last week. The jump from college to the NBA is not quite as easy as what a lot of people portray it to be. Just because you’re ready to be drafted high doesn’t mean you’re necessarily ready to play. Joel’s goal obviously is not just to be drafted high, but his goal is to be a big-time player.
So there’s going to be an adjustment period because he’s so young, but he’s ridiculously bright, he’s hungry, he’s motivated. So he’ll go through some natural growing pains that all young players go through, but in the end he’s got a chance to be standing on top. But it’ll be an adjustment for him.
Q. Joel, when you were going through the decision, what ultimately led to it? What was the big thing that pulled in the NBA direction and what was pulling you back towards college?
JOEL EMBIID: I just felt, like I said, talking to my mentor, talking to Coach, trying to gather information. I just felt like the information that my mentor gave me, (which) doesn’t mean that it was the best, but I felt comfortable and I always trusted him. I always had the trust in him. Since I came here, he’s always helped me, so I just felt confident trusting in what he was saying.
BILL SELF: And what he said was true, ‘You’re going to be a top three to five pick.’ I think under most circumstances, that would be an obvious avenue in which there would be very little decision to make. I shouldn’t speak for Joel, but I think he liked it enough here and he saw himself improve so much so fast that there is the lure of, ‘Okay, how much better would I get here before I go?’ But the reality is he’ll get better wherever he’s at. I think that was kind of what convinced him, ‘You’re going to improve regardless of where you’re at.’
Q. With guys like Andrew (Wiggins) and X (Xavier Henry), it wasn’t a real big surprise that they were going to be one-and-done. With Joel, that wasn’t the expectation coming into this year. At what point in time this year did you realize, there was a chance there’s only one year with this guy?
BILL SELF: Well, we knew when he started playing. I really think he kind of showed off a little bit against New Mexico and Georgetown where he started kind of scratching the surface of some things that he could do. But his teammates and coaches, we’ve seen flashes in practice a lot. I think the question you have to ask is ‘Are you happy when kids can realize opportunities that maybe they never dreamt of growing up?’ Joel and Andrew are obviously going to have a chance to do that. But Andrew was easy because we knew before Andrew got here what the situation was more than likely going to be. With Joel it wasn’t quite (like) that. We knew he would be really, really good, but we didn’t know how long it would take for him to be really, really good and he kind of exceeded our expectations on how fast that occurred.
You can kind of prepare when you know you’re going to lose. What makes it tough is preparing when you don’t know that you’re going to lose. But we’ve got good enough players in our program — we’ve said that all along — and our expectation and our goals won’t vary at all.
But it’s not easy to lose somebody of the caliber of those two guys. They came to school and you recruited them. They had these opportunities, so you certainly wish them the best whenever opportunity knocked, and opportunity knocked for both those guys right now.
Q. Joel, when did you start to realize, there are some possibilities to go pro after this one year?
JOEL EMBIID: I would say during the season, I really didn’t think about it. Like Coach said, I was talking to him and he was just like, ‘Be happy, play your game and everything is going to come.’ So I was just playing. I never really thought about that during the season.
Q. How about your back? Did that play a role in this decision at all?
JOEL EMBIID: No, no, my back is fine. I’m close to being 100 percent.
Q. Are you back on the court playing?
JOEL EMBIID: Yeah, I’m working out. I’ve been working out.
Q. What did your parents say, and how much did you talk to them about this?
JOEL EMBIID: Obviously they don’t live here, so I talked to them to see what they wanted me to do. The decision was mine, so I was just gathering information.
Q. Bill, from your point of view, you’ve been through this a few times. Is there anything about this experience that maybe has you hesitating?
BILL SELF: No, not really. I think the longer you do something, obviously, the more comfortable you get. As they say, ‘The longer you play the game, the slower the game becomes.’ He’s (Joel’s) like a sponge, though, and he’ll absorb everything quickly. But he’s got a lot to learn. Just because you can drive a car, are you ready for NASCAR in three years? He’s come at a very fast pace, and he’ll continue to be on that, but one thing about the league, the way that I understand it, now it becomes his job. It’s not just his passion, it’s his job. You’re talking about 12 or 14 hours a day of studying and working out, of doing some things that obviously in college we’re limited on what we can do. He’ll stay on that accelerated path. But, to me, that’s really the only thing. He’s got to get stronger, but who doesn’t? He’s got to shoot it better, but who doesn’t? He’s got to become tougher, but who doesn’t? His ceiling is ridiculously high. There are few guys out there that have a ceiling this high, in recent memory, in my opinion.
Q. Joel, how do you want to be remembered at Kansas?
JOEL EMBIID: I just want to be remembered as a guy who gave everything when he was playing. Also, I just wanted to win.
Q. How disappointed were you that you couldn’t play in the Big 12 Championship and NCAA Tournament? How frustrating was that for you?
JOEL EMBIID: I was obviously frustrated, but it’s life and my back wasn’t good enough for me to play. I couldn’t play, but I was very frustrated. I wish I could have played.
Q. Joel, did you talk to any NBA big men like (Hakeem) Olajuwon, or any other big men?
JOEL EMBIID: Yeah, Hakeem Olajuwon called me and I talked to him a little bit, and I talked to Luc Mbah a Moute, my mentor. I talked to Nicolas Batum from the Portland Trail Blazers. That’s about it.
Q. Did any of them tell you to stay?
JOEL EMBIID: I mean, they didn’t tell me what to do, they just gave me the advantages and disadvantages.
Q. Will you work out with Olajuwon or anybody?
JOEL EMBIID: I don’t know yet.
Q. Have you and Andrew had any fun with the idea of who’s going to go No. 1, who’s going to go higher, anything like that?
JOEL EMBIID: No. I talked to him last night; we’re like really good friends, brothers. Like we say, whoever goes (first) — if we have a chance to go No. 1 or No. 2, we would be happy for each other.
Q. No bets, nothing on the line?
JOEL EMBIID: No.
Q. Coach, you mentioned with Andrew that they come in with a lot of hype and these older guys in the league will challenge them because they’ve been around for so long. Is that one of the most difficult things for a young kid when they go into the NBA?
BILL SELF: I would think so. Andrew was swamped this year with hype that wasn’t anything that was of self-promoting. When Joel started playing well and everybody recognized his talent, obviously he was thrown a lot of hype his way, too. I think when you go real high in the draft, most of those guys are pretty hyped anyway. They’re going to line up and look forward to playing against him or with him, but that should be something that also sparks those respective guys, as well.
Q. Joel, when did Olajuwon call you and what did that mean for you?
JOEL EMBIID: I was really excited because he’s my favorite player of all time, my idol. I was just on the phone talking to him. He was talking to me. I don’t even remember what he was saying. I was just excited. I was just like, “Yeah.”
Q. When did he call you?
JOEL EMBIID: A couple of days ago.
Q. Do you have an agent yet?
JOEL EMBIID: No.
Q. What would it mean for you, or to the Kansas program, to have the No. 1 and 2 picks in the NBA Draft?
BILL SELF: I think it would be cool, without question. I’m not sure if you go No. 1 and No. 4 or No. 1 and No. 3 or No. 2 and No. 3 or No. 2 and No. 4; I don’t know if that makes a huge difference. But it’s nice to see so many of our guys that have been selected as lottery picks in recent memory. Sure, we’re pulling for that. I’d love for that to happen, but there are also some other players out there that would love for it to happen, as well. They’ll (Joel and Andrew will) put forth maximum effort to make sure they position themselves to be taken as high as possible. I think it certainly speaks volumes to our program, and certainly our assistant coaches, that drill these guys, and their teammates, every day.
With Joel’s situation, the question was asked how he would want to be remembered, and Joel will be remembered, to me, as a fun-loving and as good a kid and as big a talent as we’ve had. The thing that is unfortunate with Joel, the greatest thing about our sport (the NCAA Tournament), he didn’t get a chance to participate in, so I think that’s something that Joel will look back on, to be quite honest. We talked about it, that of all the positives out there, if there was a negative to leaving, I think the biggest negative was he’s kind of got an incomplete next to it, not because he’s leaving but because of what we value as being so important, he didn’t get a chance to participate in.
But I could not say that in any way, shape or form that this is something that he shouldn’t do. He’s going to have his challenges, but he’s ready to meet those challenges.
Q. Joel, you were live streaming some video games the other day and you were playing as yourself with Golden State. (It’s) Highly unlikely you’re going to fall that far in the draft. If you have an opportunity to hand-pick a team or have one team to play for, do you have one that’s a favorite that you would love to go to?
JOEL EMBIID: Not really. Whoever picks me, I will be happy. And as for the video game, it’s just a video game. I can choose whoever team I want to play with, so I was just playing with Golden State.
BILL SELF: Did you win the game?
JOEL EMBIID: Yeah.
Q. You had Kevin Durant, too.
BILL SELF: He was on the same team?
JOEL EMBIID: Yeah.
BILL SELF: That’s one reason why (you won).
Q. Who gets credit for teaching you how to drive?
JOEL EMBIID: My friend, one of my friends.
BILL SELF: You learned how to drive?
JOEL EMBIID: Yeah.
BILL SELF: Do you have your license?
JOEL EMBIID: No.
BILL SELF: Great. I’m sure it was on a country road somewhere, wasn’t it? So that way nobody was in harm’s way? [Laughter.]
Q. I know a lot of young guys that make the transition to the NBA talk about the challenge of the wear and tear of the season and travel and all that stuff. Do you think about that — if you’re ready and strong enough to go up against world class athletes at the NBA level?
JOEL EMBIID: Yeah, I think I’m going to be fine. The doctors told me that my back, my stress fracture, wasn’t a problem. So yeah, there’s no problem. I think I’ll be good.
BILL SELF: The one thing about his back that I think some people fail to really acknowledge is that his back was a situation that created a great discomfort in the early period of time after the injury occurred, but would be something that would never require any surgery. It would basically be something that he would have to deal with in the short-term but should provide absolutely zero problems moving forward with his basketball career.
Q. Now that you’re leaving, can you tell us if you really killed a lion?
JOEL EMBIID: I think I’ve heard the story, but I don’t know.
BILL SELF: You don’t know if you did it? I can understand that you might forget a phone conversation, but if you killed a lion you should at least remember that, I would think.
JOEL EMBIID: No, I didn’t.
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