Joel Embiid had a phenomenal freshman season at Kansas and looked like a no-brainer to go one-and-done. But as the young Sixers star revealed Thursday, he actually wanted to spend a second season with the Jayhawks until a mysterious person intervened and pushed him to enter the NBA Draft.
“It’s funny. I don’t think anybody knows this story, but I actually decided to stay because I loved this place so much. But I was kind of pushed away.”
“I’m not gonna say. It was a tough choice. But I’ve still got a lot of love for Kansas.”
It’s easy to frame this revelation in a pretty negative way, especially in light of the recent FBI investigation alleging NCAA coaches have been taking bribes from shoe companies to steer players to certain financial advisors, sports agents and other professionals. Embiid didn’t give enough details for us to figure out whether this person was acting in Embiid’s interest or his/her own. But this was good advice and it led to Embiid making the right decision.
Injuries were already a concern when Embiid was in college. He missed the last seven games of his freshman season due to a stress fracture in his back. He then underwent surgery on a broken bone in his right foot prior to the draft. Still, after averaging 11.2 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocks in 28 games and leading the Big 12 in defensive rebounding percentage, Embiid went third overall to the Sixers with a four-year, $20 million rookie deal.
The broken bone in his foot cost him the 2014-15 season, and then he missed the entire 2015-16 season after a setback forced him to undergo a second round of surgery. Who knows if Embiid would have suffered the same setback had he been at Kansas instead of in the NBA, but even just missing his entire sophomore season coupled with the injury problems from his freshman year would have caused him to slip, potentially a significant amount, in the 2015 draft.
Embiid finally made his NBA debut last season and was putting up insane numbers for a rookie. He averaged 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks while adding a three-point shot to his game. But, once again, injuries cut into his playing time, and he only played in 31 games. Even so, his performance earned him a five-year, $148 million extension — with a number of intricate contingencies regarding injuries.
It’ss a bit heartbreaking that Embiid was pushed into leaving a place he loved sooner than he had to, but that advice led him to millions of dollars and made him a beloved figure in Philadelphia. So this is very much a good case of adults intervening the lives of young athletes.