Kansas coach Bill Self has been working to fill out his latest recruiting class with a high-ceiling big man. He found one in Joel Embiid, a 7-foot center from Cameroon who calls Hakeem Olajuwon his favorite player and math his favorite subject.
Embiid, a senior at The Rock School in Gainesville, Fla., made his KU commitment official on Tuesday morning, picking the Jayhawks over Florida and Texas and delivering the news with a simple post on Twitter: “Proud to be a Jayhawk,” Embiid wrote.
Of course, the specifics of Embiid’s journey, from the soccer fields and handball courts of Cameroon to the cusp of major college basketball, are a little more fascinating than his five-word public announcement.
Last year at this time, Embiid had just arrived in the United States as a junior center at Montverde Academy in Florida, and his basketball background consisted of one camp in February 2011 and later an extended tour at an academy in Cameroon.
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“He had seen it,” said Justin Harden, Embiid’s coach at The Rock, “but he really hadn’t played it.”
Embiid, though, found an ally in former UCLA star Luc Mbah a Moute, a forward for the Milwaukee Bucks and a fellow Cameroonian who saw Embiid at a camp back in their home country. Mbah a Moute had graduated from Montverde, and Embiid moved to America to follow the same path.
“He was just instrumental in making connections with Joel and finding a way for him to find a school,” Harden said.
After one high school season, Embiid was still mostly off the national radar. But that changed last summer, when he had a strong summer on the grassroots circuit. Coaches began to learn his name. And by the early fall, some of the best programs in the country began to call.
“He’s a kid with immense potential and a very high ceiling,” said Eric Bossi, a national recruiting analyst for Rivals.com.
Bossi conservatively estimated that Embiid would be in the top 35-50 of Rivals’ final national rankings. At a listed 7 feet and 220 pounds, Embiid draws high marks for his basketball instincts and coordination.
“His offense is actually pretty good,” Bossi said. “He’s still a little bit raw, but he’s got good feet; he can shoot the ball really well; he’s got soft touch. He’s got a really nice spin move, that he can score going to his left or his right shoulder.”
According to Harden, Embiid’s father was a professional team handball player back in Cameroon. He also played volleyball, and some of the skills have apparently transferred over.
“He’s a really nice kid off the court,” Harden said. “On the court, he can be really nasty, which is good.”
Embiid, who is still mastering the English language, took a trip to Late Night in the Phog last month. That, along with a comfortable relationship with KU assistant Norm Roberts, helped close the deal, according to Harden.
“I also think that the tradition and prestige of Kansas was pretty influential,” Harden said.
He’s scheduled to sign a national letter of intent at a ceremony on Thursday, and his addition gives Self and KU one of the top recruiting classes in the country.
KU has commitments from Wichita guard Conner Frankamp (No. 31, according to Rivals.com); Georgia swingman Brannen Greene (No. 25); Tilton prep (N.H.) guard Wayne Selden (No. 26); and Massanutten Military Academy (Va.) point guard Frank Mason (No. 134).
Kansas is set to have five open scholarships for the 2013 class. But the number could fluctuate, depending on transfers or early entrees to the NBA draft. Kansas has continued to recruit three other top-10 players: Forward Julius Randle of Plano, Texas; small forward Andrew Wiggins of Huntington Prep (W.Va.); and forward Aaron Gordon of San Jose, Calif. All three players are expected to wait until the spring to announce their college destinations.