By the second half of the season, news outlets were buzzing over the fact that on the Kansas Jayhawks’ roster was a freshman who was widely considered to be the future first pick in the upcoming 2014 NBA Draft. It may have not seemed like big news to most. Freshman phenom, Andrew Wiggins, had been proclaimed the best amateur basketball player in the world for quite some time, and had been on NBA scouts’ radars since his high school years. What did raise eyebrows, however, was the fact that Wiggins was only projected to be the second overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. The projected first pick basketball analysts were referring to was Joel Embiid, a little known 7-foot center who’s ceiling of potential was off the charts.
Born in Cameroon, Embiid had not even picked up a basketball before 2011. The youngster was a natural, however, and quickly became one of the most sought after recruits coming out of high school. By the time Embiid began gaining momentum at Kansas, he had drawn analyst comparisons to some of the most successful NBA legends of all time. Most notable, however, was his skill sets uncanny resemblance to the style of hall of famer Hakeem Olajuwon.
Embiid teamed up with fellow freshman Wiggins in order to catapult the Jayhawks to the top of the NCAA food chain. The Kansas center improved in long strides week after week, showing a natural ability to block shots, hit fading jumpers, and control the interior. Through the end of regular season play, Embiid had tallied some impressive numbers, averaging 11.6 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks per outing.
But all may be in jeopardy for Embiid and his talented Jayhawks team. The remainder of the center’s season is shrouded in uncertainty as he was recently diagnosed with a stress fracture of the spine. Though the injury will not require surgery and doctors expect Embiid to recover with a few weeks of rest and rehabilitation, this could not come at a worse time for the Jayhawks. The team will almost certainly have to advance a few rounds in the NCAA tournament before their star center is healthy enough to suit up and take the court. This will be no easy task without Embiid (the Big 12 defensive player of the year) controlling the paint with his enormous presence.
What is more discouraging than the jeopardized outcome of Kansas’ season is the nature of Embiid’s injury at his young age. Stress fractures primarily occur when an athlete has a large mount of impact repetitions on a specific bone or joint, and have a tendency to flare up in subsequent periods of a player’s career. Only 19, it is easy to see why this may pose as a concern for Embiid’s promising future as an NBA prospect. Similar injuries hindered the careers of talented big men such as Bill Walton, Brad Daugherty, and Ralph Sampson. It would be premature to claim that Embiid is doomed to tread similar path’s as the NBA’s biggest sob stories, and only time will tell how much the youngster is affected by his setback, but Kansas coach Bill Self would be wise to bring his star center along slowly so as not to jeopardize his career.