What a difference three years (and, evidently, some chicken wings) can make, huh?
There is, of course, perhaps a greater degree of hope for those blessed with a 7-footer's frame and the sort of innate athleticism that would've made Embiid a terror on the volleyball court had he stuck with that game (which his father preferred, according to Grantland's Jordan Conn) and never been introduced to hoops. But genetics and luck alone don't determine an athlete's fate, obviously, and as Conn wrote in his piece on the 20-year-old center's come-up in Cameroon, Embiid put in the work:
[When Embiid first began playing,] “he thought he was Kevin Durant,” says Moudio. Embiid had never been taught to shoot, but that didn’t stop him from launching (and missing) 3s. He had never learned to dribble, but from the moment he picked up a ball he was trying to cross up defenders at every opportunity. And when those crossovers led to Embiid chasing the ball into the street, as they often did, he would just get back on the court and try the same move — with the same disastrous results — all over again. [...] Within weeks he was wrestling away most every rebound and lording over the paint, and now, if you look at the basket on the near side of this court, you can still see players shooting on a bent, nearly unhinged rim. That was Embiid’s doing. He dunked too hard.
Then came the video. It’s the most important chapter in the fast-growing body of Embiid lore — the tape of Nigerian center Hakeem Olajuwon that changed the way Embiid saw the game. In actuality, the tape included more than just Olajuwon. It was a supercut of 1990s centers, also featuring David Robinson and Patrick Ewing. Moudio had received it from a friend. He had never instructed players to watch tape before, but Embiid was growing desperate for any piece of information he could find on his new sport. “Here,” Moudio told him, “you might like this.“ [...]
[...] after one night with the tape, Embiid didn’t want to be a swingman anymore. “I want to be Olajuwon,” he told Moudio. From then on, every day was built around reaching that goal. He’d mimic Olajuwon’s Dream Shake, finding that even if he couldn’t put the ball in the basket, he could still move with a fluidity and grace that approximated Olajuwon’s moves. He’d strap on a weight vest and stand near the basket while Moudio lofted ball after ball to the sky, jumping to catch each one at its apex. Sometimes, he’d cry from the pain.
Before long, though, Embiid was the one inflicting pain in the paint rather than suffering from it, filling out into a 250-pound pivot who can bang near the bucket while still retaining the quickness, agility and capacity to translate instruction into production that made him such a tantalizing prospect in Lawrence.
Some of the credit for Embiid's transformation also goes to Kansas strength coach Andrea Hudy, whom former KU center and current New Orleans Pelicans big man Jeff Withey called the Jayhawks' "secret weapon."
“My first week ... working with coach Hudy in the weight room was kind of tough because it was my first time to really work like that," Embiid said in June 2013. The work paid major dividends over the course of his lone year in college, as he told KUSports.com's Matt Tait:
Asked recently if he ever had worked with anyone like her, the 7-foot center from Cameroon who still is in the early stages of his basketball career flashed a look that hinted that the question might as well have been rhetorical.
“Um, no,” he said. “I didn’t have anything like that (before Kansas). She knows what she’s doing, and she knows what I need to work on. She’s really helping me. I’ve gotten so much stronger since I’ve been here.”
It'll be a bit before we find out whether he can bring that strength to bear in the big leagues, thanks to his pre-draft foot injury, but when his attempt begins in earnest, it will be as a full-fledged paint patrolling big man rather than as a stretched-out small forward whose wingspan covers a full city block. (Luckily, we've got Bruno Caboclo to fill that role.)
Oh, and by the way, Joel: LeBron James sees your three-year swell-up, Joel, and raises you one two-month shrinkdown:
LeBron loses the carbs, other dudes can find them. The circle of NBA life, y'all.
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