LAWRENCE — Joel Embiid’s freshman season at Kansas was cut short because of a back injury. His basketball career at KU was cut short by his enormous potential.
With Jayhawks coach Bill Self by his side, Embiid announced Wednesday at a news conference that he’ll enter the NBA Draft, closing his college career after 28 games. Embiid said he came to the decision on Sunday.
In the abbreviated season, Embiid flashed promise that could make him a top-three draft selection. He became one of the game’s top big men, averaging 11.2 points and team bests with 8.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocks. The rebound average and 72 total blocks set school records for freshmen.
Embiid didn’t open the season in the starting lineup, and averaged 19 minutes in his first eight games. He started for the first time on Dec. 10 at Florida, and his next game, against New Mexico at the Sprint Center, was one of his best. He had 18 points and four blocked shots against the Lobos’ big front line, and became a major factor in the Jayhawks’ run to a 10th straight Big 12 regular-season championship.
But Embiid missed KU’s final six games and a total of seven games after developing a stress fracture in his lower back.
He was set to return had the Jayhawks reached the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Tournament but a loss to Stanford in the round of 32 ended the season and Embiid’s college career.
Embiid had played organized basketball for three years before this season. He was discovered in his native Cameroon by countryman Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, a former UCLA standout and veteran forward for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Mbah a Moute directed Embiid to Montverde Academy in Florida and Embiid finished his prep career at The Rock School in Gainesville, Fla., before signing with Kansas.
The announcement could have an impact on Myles Turner, a 7-foot center from Texas and one of the nation’s top prospects.
Turner was the only player in last week’s McDonald’s All-America game in Chicago who was undecided about his college future, and there was speculation that Turner wanted to see what Embiid would do before making his announcement.
Turner told The Star that Kansas was among his finalists along with Texas, Ohio State, Oklahoma State, SMU and Duke.
“I’m looking at all my options,” Turner said. “I don’t even know where I’m going yet.”
The deadline to enter the draft is April 27, but underclassmen have until April 15 to pull their name from entry if they don’t hire an agent.