University of Kansas

Embiid feeling healthy, closing in on KU freshman blocks record

The treatment comes daily: ice after practice, heat on some days, and other bits of more technologically advanced medicine.

“They do little stuff,” KU center Joel Embiid said on Thursday.

The little stuff, of course, is big for No. 8 Kansas, which is now just two victories shy of clinching a share of its 10th straight Big 12 title. Embiid, the Jayhawks’ 7-foot force in the middle, is trying to get healthy after knee and back injuries mounted in early February. But he’s also trying to make the most of his freshman season, which could be his last on campus if he leaves early for the NBA Draft following the season.

So after sitting out nearly a week, Embiid returned to the floor against Texas Tech on Tuesday, finishing with 18 points and eight rebounds in a 64-63 victory. Two days later, Embiid offered a positive report on how his body responded to the 32 minutes of playing time at Texas Tech.

“The treatment I’ve been getting helped me a lot, so my knee felt fine,” Embiid said. “My back is also fine.”

Now comes the real test, a rematch with No. 19 Texas on Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse. Embiid had just eight points on three-of-nine shooting in Kansas’ first game against Texas, an 81-69 loss in Austin on Feb. 1. But the poor offensive performance came just a week after Embiid suffered an initial knee sprain in a victory at TCU.

The Longhorns feature one of the biggest frontcourts in the league, including 285-pound center Cameron Ridley. But Embiid says it wasn’t the physicality that affected him in the first game against Texas.

“I wouldn’t say they were physical,” Embiid said. “I mean, it’s just us. At the beginning of the game, we weren’t just ready to play and we lost. It would (hopefully) change on Saturday.”

Embiid, who is averaging 11 points and 7.8 rebounds, also enters Saturday just a block shy of the KU freshman record, needing one to surpass Eric Chenowith’s freshman record of 62. At times, Embiid has been the rim protector Kansas needs. But he’s still learning.

“I would say Joel is good, but could be great,” Self said, reminding that most freshmen bigs don’t get to play enough minutes to rack up huge numbers. “There’s still another step for him to take there.”

Embiid is averaging 2.5 blocks per game, second best in the Big 12. But he’s recorded just six blocks in his last four games.

“The last couple games, I haven’t been blocking a lot of shots,” Embiid said. “So I need to be a better rim protector and a better defender.”

But perhaps more importantly, Embiid says he feels healthy. By now, the knee is barely a concern and his back is feeling better. And Self is being quite honest when he says he’d prefer not to know how Embiid’s body is doing.

“They may give you the answer that you don’t want to hear, so a lot of times you don’t ask,” Self said. “So that way you think they’re fine. I’m serious when I say that. I talked to him (Thursday) morning and he said he’s going to class, everything was good.”