LAWRENCE — In the days after Joel Embiid sprained his knee at TCU in late January, the Kansas basketball staff started hearing from a few doctors who had watched the replay.
Embiid’s knee had buckled, suffering the kind of torque that can tear ligaments. The tests had been run, of course, and the diagnosis was just a sprain. But some medical men couldn’t believe it.
“We had doctors call us and say, ‘Well, he had to tear his ACL when he did it,’ ” Self said. “If he wasn’t a rubber-band man, it could have easily happened.”
As Self relayed the story during his weekly radio show on Tuesday, Embiid’s immediate future was still a little cloudy. But one day after No. 7 Kansas’ 85-82 loss to Kansas State, Self repeated what he said on Monday night. His big fella is beat up — a recent back injury adding to the stress — and Embiid needs some time to rest.
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“His body does not feel good,” Self said. “He has no strength. He winces when he moves. We see it, and of course we’re going to shut him down for a while. I don’t know how long.”
For now, it’s unclear whether Embiid will try to play against TCU on Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse. Self has stayed relatively vague on how long Embiid will stay in shut-down mode. But he’s not ruling out that Embiid could miss a game. For now, Self wants to see how Embiid responds to a week of treatment and rest.
Self reiterated on Tuesday that Embiid doesn’t have any structural issues in his knee or back, which he tweaked against West Virginia last Saturday. But his production has waned since his initial injury at TCU.
After manhandling Big 12 competition for most of January, Embiid is averaging 8.8 points and 9.2 rebounds in his last five games. He did manage a double-double in 17 minutes against West Virginia, but his explosiveness and agility have faded. In addition to the initial knee sprain, Self said Embiid is also battling a bone bruise.
“It’s a serious bone bruise,” Self said. “Every time he walks it hurts. But it’s nothing structurally that he couldn’t deal with. But now the pain has kind of settled in his hamstring area. And so there’s swelling and tightness and he doesn’t move near as well, and (he’s) not near as explosive.”
The loss of Embiid, a potential top-three pick in this summer’s NBA Draft, could be substantial, especially on defense. With the Jayhawks’ 7-foot rim protector missing most of the second half on Monday, K-State finished with 11 layups or dunks during the final 25 minutes.
But for Kansas (18-6, 9-2 Big 12), the most important thing is to have Embiid fully healthy when the season matters most. After facing bottom-feeder TCU on Saturday, KU will travel to seventh-place Texas Tech next Tuesday. A potentially pivotal showdown with Texas is looming on Feb. 22 at Allen Fieldhouse, a rematch of one of KU’s two Big 12 losses. Embiid had eight points on 3-of-9 shooting at Texas on Feb. 2.
“Texas put a heavy body on him and pushed him out,” Self said, “and of course that’s what K-State tried to do yesterday as well. But it wouldn’t make any different right now with Jo.”
Self was hopeful that Embiid could get through Monday’s game before taking some time off. But even Monday was a struggle. He played 18 minutes, and the pain was evident.
“Fortunately, it’s not anything that can’t heal up with a little bit of time,” Self said. “He’s going to get a lot of treatment in the next few days and hopefully get his legs back under him. Everybody goes through it.”