Unless you live under a rock, you’ve probably heard of Kansas center Joel Embiid. He’s garnered comparisons ranging from Hasheem Thabeet to Hakeem Olajuwon. Many NBA scouts claim that he has the highest ceiling of any prospect; even higher than Duke’s scoring phenom Jabari Parker, Kentucky’s post bruiser Julius Randle, or fellow Jayhawk Andrew Wiggins. If the draft were held today, ESPN’s Chad Ford would likely have him going #1 overall, as he sits atop his Big Board.
And he might not even go pro.
Yes, I know, it’s a weird thought. In an era of one-and-dones, most top recruits’ college experience never gets past the second semester (sometimes even the first – I’m looking at you, Derrick Rose.) But Embiid is different, largely because of his personal background.
Let’s start by examining where this is all coming from. Last week, in an interview with Dana O’Neil of ESPN, Embiid talked about how he strives to be the best, like most prospective NBA lottery picks. But he was looking back at history more so than the present day. He revealed that he has been studying former great NBA big men, and that he observed a trend of those elite players staying in college for 2 or 3 years.
It makes sense from a basketball standpoint. Bill Self has an impressive track record of developing big men, and his inside-out offense is a staple in college hoops coaching schemes. But there’s a simpler explanation for why Embiid might stay in Lawrence next year: he’s still just a kid.
In this sense, “kid” does not mean child. It means that he is still adjusting to being a man in America.
As you most likely know, Embiid hails from the nation of Cameroon, where he was an elite volleyball player. I’m going to save you from the incessant storytelling that you will get from watching any nationally televised KU game. The fact of the matter is, Joel has been living in America for only 2 or 3 years. He has yet to fully adjust to the lifestyle, especially considering he is still learning the English language.
As he said in his interview with O’Neil, he can’t drive yet. He just found out what “friends with benefits” means. He was asking people to buy him a PS4. These would often be things said by or about a 15 year old boy – not one of the top amateur basketball players in the country. Embiid is still maturing.
Another year of living the college/adult life could do wonders for Embiid’s future. It may be an unfair stereotype, but recent reports have shown that many young athletes burn out financially after a few years into the pros. Being able to adjust to America for 12 more months in one of the best college towns in the country could potentially prevent him from wasting his NBA paychecks, and making him more accustomed to American culture.
On a related and potentially contradictory note, Embiid’s financial situation is great. He doesn’t need the NBA money, unlike other NBA prospects, such as former Jayhawk Ben McLemore. His family in Cameroon is very wealthy and supportive. There is no poverty for his family to escape from. Being in college another year would likely only affect his family’s money by giving him enough money to buy NBA 2k15 for his PS4.
Come April, Embiid has an important decision to make. Does he put his name in the NBA Draft, hire an agent, collect $200 and pass go, or stick around Lawrence for another year? While staying in school may be the best route, he certainly has a bright future ahead of him, regardless of when he is drafted.