When Bill Self updated reporters on the condition of star 7-footer Joel Embiid's back on Monday morning, the Kansas coach acknowledged the potential future No. 1 pick might be held out of the Big 12 tournament as a precaution
"The big thing is having him for the following week," Self said.
Hours later, Embiid's prognosis had worsened enough that Self was no longer optimistic the freshman would be ready for the start of the NCAA tournament either. A visit to a back specialist in Los Angeles confirmed that Embiid had suffered a stress fracture in his back but also revealed that the timetable for his return was longer than Kansas initially anticipated.
"This weekend (in the Big 12 Championship) is out," Self said in a statement released by the school Monday night. "Next weekend, we feel like is a long shot, but the doctors are hopeful that if Joel works hard in rehab and progresses that it is possible that he could play in the later rounds of the NCAA Tournament if our team is fortunate enough to advance."
Embiid suffered the back injury Feb. 8 against West Virginia and reinjured it March 1 against Oklahoma State. He sat out Kansas' past two games, and three of the past seven.
The status of Embiid is critical to Kansas' chances of challenging for a national championship. When he's in the lineup, the Jayhawks are a title contender. When he's out, they lack a rim protector and are vulnerable defensively, as evidenced by the 92 points West Virginia scored in an upset victory Saturday in Morgantown.
Embiid is averaging 11.2 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocked shots per game. For as long as he can't play, it's likely Memphis transfer Tarik Black will take his place in the lineup and forward Jamari Traylor will see more playing time off the bench.
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