Joel Embiid ‘decided to stay’ for KU basketball sophomore season, was ‘pushed away’

Former Jayhawk center expects to play in Friday exhibition at Sprint Center

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid agreed to a five-year, $148 million designated rookie scale maximum contract extention with the Philadelphia 76ers earlier this week. Embiid played one season at Kansas and expected to play in the 76ers’ exhibition Friday night against the Miami Heat at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo. (The Associated Press)

LAWRENCE — Peppered by onlooking fans with shouts of “trust the process” and “we love you” during a post-practice interview, it’s easy to see why Joel Embiid would’ve wanted another year of this.

 

As the Philadelphia 76ers center revealed Thursday, it’s a scenario that would’ve happened if he had his way.

Speaking to reporters following the 76ers’ practice at Allen Fieldhouse and ahead of his team’s 7:30 p.m. Friday preseason game against the Miami Heat at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo., the 7-footer and former No. 3-overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft explained how he came close to returning for a sophomore season at Kansas.

In fact, at one point it was a decision he had already made.

“It’s funny, I don’t think anybody knows this story, but I actually decided to stay because I loved this place so much,” Embiid said. “But I was kind of pushed away.”

The statement is likely to surprise KU fans — and perhaps drive them to pitchforks and torches. Embiid, though, refused to reveal who “pushed” him to the pros, a move likely done in his best interest and, given his history of injuries, worked out well.

Earlier this week, Embiid agreed to a five-year, $148 million designated rookie scale maximum contract extension with the 76ers.

“I’m not gonna say (who pushed), but it was a tough choice,” Embiid said. “I’ve still got a lot of love for Kansas. Every time I get the chance to represent (KU) I always do.”

Embiid averaged 11.2 points and 8.1 rebounds in 28 games for the Jayhawks in 2013-14 but missed the team’s final six games, including a 60-57 season-ending defeat to Stanford in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

Since his final appearance in a KU uniform — a 13-point, 13-rebound effort March 1, 2014, at Oklahoma State — Embiid has been plagued by back, foot and other injuries that have limited him to just 31 career games at the NBA level.

The death of his brother Arthur in late 2014, Embiid said, had him considering retirement.

“At some point in my second year, I thought about quitting just because I had so much stuff not go my way — losing my brother, missing a few years of basketball due to surgeries and injuries,” Embiid said. “But I’m glad I stuck with basketball, and looking where I am, I think I made a good choice.”

Returning to campus for only the third time, Embiid was determined to make the most of it.

While the 76ers were scheduled to take a team bus to Allen Fieldhouse, Embiid made his own plans, arriving early for a walk around campus.

“I wanted to do that just (because) I’ve got three more years and I’m definitely going to come back to finish school,” Embiid said. “I just wanted to come back and get a feel for it. I loved it.”

At the practice, Embiid drained several 3-pointers — a skillset he practiced at KU but was never allowed to take into a game — and playfully trash talked with teammate and former Kansas State guard Jacob Pullen. “Obviously we’re 1,000 times better than (K-State), so any time I get the chance to take a jab at him, I always do,” Embiid joked of his relationship with Pullen.

Longer chats with KU coach Bill Self and the current crop of Jayhawk players, Embiid said, were on the horizon, with another African-born 7-footer — KU center and Nigeria native Udoka Azubuike — catching the Cameroon native’s eye.

“He seems like a good guy,” Embiid said of Azubuike. “I watched a little bit last year when he was playing. Big fella, athletic. I think he’s got a pretty good chance, but in basketball it’s all about working hard. That’s what got me to where I am right now and the only advice I can give to him is just work hard, and hard work is going to pay off.”

Embiid said his body “feels amazing” on the heels of a 22-point, seven-rebound effort in 15 minutes of Wednesday’s preseason victory over the Brooklyn Nets. Asked if Embiid would be available for Friday night’s exhibition at Sprint Center, 76ers coach Brett Brown said he was waiting for his medical team’s opinion and that the center’s area ties would not influence the decision.

Embiid, however, put it in more certain terms.

“Oh yeah. Definitely I’m playing,” Embiid said. “I’m back in Kansas. Of course I’m going to play.”

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