Campus Corner

Inside Joel Embiid’s decision to leave KU, another excerpt from Big 12 title streak book

Former KU center Joel Embiid
Former KU center Joel Embiid rsugg@kcstar.com

Former Kansas City Star sportswriter Jason King has compiled a 512-page book about KU’s 13 straight conference titles. “Beyond the Streak: Untold Stories from Kansas Basketball’s Unrivaled Big 12 Reign,” which hits Rally House stores Nov. 24 and can be ordered at kubook.net.

King will be signing advance copies in the Kansas City area on Wednesday, Nov. 22. He’ll be at Johnny’s Tavern on Shawnee Mission Parkway from 3-5:30 p.m. and at the 83rd and Mission location from 6-8:30 p.m.

The Star is running excerpts from the book. Here is a second excerpt:

book

Even though he knew he’d be a top-three pick, Joel Embiid was hesitant to enter the 2014 NBA draft following his freshman season.

Norm Roberts: “Joel didn’t want to enter the draft. He sat in my office in tears. He kept saying, ‘I don’t want to go. I don’t want to go. Call my mom and dad and tell them I want to stay.’ Then it was like, ‘Joel, you’re going to be a top three pick. You could be the No. 1 pick.’

“Luc, his mentor, said, ‘Norm, how could this kid not go in the draft when he’s going to be a top-three pick? How am I going to go back to his country and tell them that I told him to wait? What if something happens with his back or his foot? How can Joel do that and let his country down?’ He said that, and Joel was sitting right there. We all got up and started walking out of my office, and Joel turned around and looked at me and said, ‘Coach, can I call Coach Self? I’m going to have to go. I’ve gotta go, Coach. I’ve gotta go.’ I said, ‘OK, big fella. OK.’”

With just two weeks remaining in conference play, Ben McLemore’s banked-in 3-pointer to force overtime against Iowa State in the Big 12 opener had been the biggest moment of KU’s 2012-13 campaign. When all was said and done, however, that overtime win in January didn’t prove to be the most memorable game of the season. It wasn’t even the most memorable game against Iowa State. That matchup occurred Feb. 25 in Ames, and one particular Jayhawk was motivated more than others.

Elijah Johnson: “Leading into that game, I’d had some crazy experiences at Iowa State, stuff you couldn’t see on TV. Some of their fans lost their cool more than a couple of times. Our team knew about it and the coaches knew about it, but that was about it.

“The year before, in 2012, when they beat us up there, they stormed the floor and hurt a referee. He was bleeding from his head. That same game, one of their fans spit in my face as I was running up the tunnel before the game. There was a guy in the stands that was trying so hard to get my attention. He didn’t get it, but he got the attention of the person next to me. I believe it was Merv Lindsay. Merv looked up and said something smart to him, and he started grabbing the rail and lunging at us—and then another guy spit toward us. I happened to look up just as that spit was coming down and it hit me. I turned around and lunged in his direction, but then I thought about what was happening, and I regained my composure.”

Assistant coach Joe Dooley: “The spit hit him right in the face. I was right behind him when it happened, and I was amazed that he kept his poise. He was definitely pissed off, and I was scared he was going to run into the crowd. I remember thinking, ‘How could someone do something like that?’’’

Elijah Johnson: “I got to the locker room and lost my cool. I was the last one in the locker room and Tyshawn was already giving a speech. I walked right past him and Ty said something, but Merv was like, ‘Someone just spit in his face. Leave him alone. He’s mad right now. He’s real mad.’ Then we went out there and they beat us. They rushed the court and wouldn’t let us off, and then they hurt that referee. The KU people helped take him to the locker room. My blood boiled about that night for a whole year. I couldn’t wait to go back up there.”

As talented as Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid may have been, anyone on Kansas’ staff will say that, of all of KU’s one-and-done freshmen, Josh Jackson had the biggest impact on the Jayhawks’ program.

Josh Jackson: “I may have been a freshman, but I didn’t mind jumping on someone at practice if they weren’t working hard. I think I earned their respect pretty quickly. Sometimes, when guys are older, it can be kind of dangerous because you don’t know how they’re going to receive it. But when I was at practice and saw someone not giving the same effort as I was, I was on them. I didn’t care of it was Frank or Devonte’ or Udoka (Azubuike). Some days we would go back and forth and argue, but at the end of the day, we all remembered that we were on the same team and that we all had the same goal.”

Landen Lucas: “I haven’t seen a freshman with the mentality and mindset that he had. After a few months he was carrying himself like he’d been with us for three years. And the thing was, everyone was fine with it because everyone respected him.

“If we were doing extra running or people were late, a senior would usually step up and say something. But Josh would jump in and voice his opinion, as well. If we were having team meetings and there was something that needed to be said or things needed to be changed, he would state his opinion.”

Kurtis Townsend: “Josh was completely different than Wiggins. With Wiggs … I think one of his main goals was not to get hurt. His whole deal was, ‘Let me make sure I don’t get a serious injury that will keep me from being the No. 1 pick.’ Whereas with Josh … he was a guy that absolutely hated to lose. Even though he knew he was going to the NBA, he wasn’t looking that far ahead. While he was here he was focused on winning, and he attacked every game and every practice that way. His approach was really good.”

Bill Self: “Josh could not have handled a group of teammates better than he did, especially considering he knew he was: the alpha dog, the one that leads verbally, the one that leads by example. He realized, ‘I’m a great competitor, but these other guys around here ... they compete just as hard as I do.’ He’s a winner, and he respected the other guys because he knew they were winners, too.

“Another thing Josh realized after he got here was that No. 0 (Mason) was pretty strong-minded himself. I think Josh thought he’d come in here and say, ‘I’ll just make this my team.’ Well, you had some pretty strong-minded dudes that had done quite a bit. Josh was able to respect that and still impose his own will on things at the right time.”

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