Joel Embiid traveled a long way from his hometown of Yaoundé, Cameroon in Africa to make the NBA. Embiid enrolled at Montverde Academy, which has become one of the top high school basketball powerhouses in the country located just north of Orlando, Florida. Coming to the States, Embiid did not have much experience playing basketball, but coaches saw his potential early on. Embiid spoke with Bleacher Report about what it was like leaving Cameroon for Florida.
“Just imagine walking away from your whole family like that,” Embiid told Bleacher Report. “It’s not easy.”
Embiid’s father, Thomas Embiid, explained to Bleacher Report why he felt the move was necessary for his son to develop.
“There was no sadness,” Thomas Embiid told Bleacher Report. “Coming to the USA was a huge opportunity for my son to establish himself. I kept pushing him to get his education and to play sports.”
Embiid knew very little English, but showed enough on the court to receive a scholarship offer from Kansas. Embiid averaged 11.2 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocks in his one season with the Jayhawks.
While there was debate among the Kansas staff, Jayhawks coach Bill Self knew he wanted Embiid as soon as he saw him play.
“Are you frickin’ kidding me?” Self told Bleacher Report. “This dude could be the No. 1 pick in the draft. He can run. He’s got good feet. He’s got touch. He’s unbelievable. He’ll be the best big man we’ve ever coached if we can get him…Forget all the other guys we’ve been after. That’s the guy we’ve got to get. We’ve got to get Joel.”
Embiid did not end up being the top pick, but he was close as the Philadelphia 76ers drafted him with the No. 3 pick of the 2014 NBA Draft. Embiid’s career did not get off to the fast start he would have liked. Embiid missed the first two seasons as he recovered from an injury. Just a season after making his NBA debut, Embiid earned an NBA All-Star appearance by averaging 23.7 points, 11.1 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.8 blocks.
According to NBA.com, Yaounde is the second largest city in Cameroon, and Embiid was a standout volleyball player in the area. By 15, he was already 6’9″ when a coach gave him a video of Hakeem Olajuwon to watch, and Embiid was introduced to basketball. On a recent trip back to Africa, Embiid spoke to NBA.com about his early years in Cameroon.
I wasn’t as good as all the guys,” he said. “I didn’t know how to shoot, the mechanics, how to handle the ball. It’s just a testament to all the work I put in. I still have a long way to go. I can be so much better. I know Africans, we all start basketball late. This is where it all started for me.
This is a special place. I know what they are going through. Some of these kids are not going to be in the same position as me but each one is special. What I want to tell these kids is, as long as you put in the hard work every day, everything is going to be OK.