Kansas center Joel Embiid's return to the court will be prolonged, Jayhawks head coach Bill Self said in a press release Monday.
Embiid, the potential No. 1 pick in the 2014 NBA draft, visited a spinal specialist in California on Monday for a second opinion on his lower back, which he injured Feb. 8 against West Virginia and reinjured March 1 against Oklahoma State. The specialist confirmed the original stress fracture prognosis he received in Lawrence. Current treatments have Embiid in the middle of the healing process, which renders him unavailable for the Big 12 championship and unlikely to play in the first weekend of the NCAA tournament.
"Based on that, this weekend (in the Big 12 championship) is out," Self said. "Next weekend, we feel like is a longshot, 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."
The 7-foot freshman is averaging 11.2 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocked shots per game. With him playing, Kansas would be among the favorites to win the national title. Without him, the Big 12 champion Jayhawks are vulnerable. That was obvious Saturday, when West Virginia blitzed Kansas for 92 points in an upset victory in Morgantown.
"I thought we were exposed [defensively] at West Virginia," Self said. " …He's as important to us defensively as probably anybody is to their team.
"When he's healthy and playing well, he has the potential to impact a game offensively and defensively as much as anybody in the country."
Embiid has missed Kansas' past two games, and three of the past seven. The Jayhawks start play in the Big 12 tourney Thursday, and if they continue to win, they would play three games in three days. The NCAA tournament, by comparison, is less physically demanding with a day off between games.