Jayhawks’ Embiid participates in shoot-around, status unchanged
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Injured Kansas center Joel Embiid remains unlikely to return before the second weekend of the NCAA tournament, even though he participated in a light shoot-around Wednesday.
Jayhawks coach Bill Self said the 7-footer’s status hasn’t changed since Monday, when Embiid received a second opinion on his back from a specialist in Los Angeles. The doctor confirmed the initial diagnosis of a stress fracture and prescribed rest and rehabilitation.
"He’s not playing this week, at all," Self said in the hallway outside the Kansas locker room at the Sprint Center. "The thing about it is we’ll play him whenever the doctors and Joel’s body say he’s ready to play, and I’m still confident — and others are — that it’s going to happen.
"But to be real candid," Self said, "we may have to advance for it to happen."
Self was referring to the NCAA tournament, of course. He also refuted reports that he was "100 percent" confident his freshman shot-blocker would play again this postseason.
No. 10 Kansas has the top seed and a first-round bye in the Big 12 tournament. The defending champion will face the winner of Oklahoma State-Texas Tech in Thursday’s quarterfinals.
Embiid’s injury has become a major story in Kansas City this week. Talk radio shows have dissected it for days, trotting out back experts and others to give their opinions on whether the freshman — projected by some to be the No. 1 pick in the draft — will return at all this season.
The injury has even gotten the attention of the NCAA tournament selection committee, which has asked Kansas to keep abreast of developments in the injury this week.
It’s not the first time the committee has weighed injuries to star players when it comes time to seed the tournament. Perhaps the most famous case occurred in 2000, when Cincinnati was dropped to the second line after Kenyon Martin broke his leg in the Conference USA tournament.
The Bearcats were upset in the second round by Tulsa, which was coached by Self.
"Obviously they were the best team in the country that year and they dropped a seed line. You never know," Self said, "and I’m not sure this year (seeds) matter a whole lot."
With Embiid out for the foreseeable future, the Jayhawks will be leaning on Tarik Black, a senior transfer from Memphis who has played well when he’s not been mired in foul trouble.
Black was the starter early in the season before Embiid took over the role.
"It wasn’t a one-man show when he was with us. He was a big part of our team, but we’re still Kansas. We’re still the name on the front of the jersey," Black said. "I don’t feel much pressure. We have a great team, and it goes back to being Kansas basketball."
Junior guard Naadir Tharpe said the biggest hurdle to overcome is on defense, where Embiid was able to patrol the paint. The Jayhawks have been susceptible to dribble penetration all year.
"We have to make sure everyone’s much more locked in," Tharpe said, "because Joel protects the rim so well. Now we have to make sure everyone’s on the same plane."
It’s not as if playing without Embiid is new. He missed a game against TCU earlier this season because of his back, and was shut down for the Jayhawks’ final two regular-season games, a blowout win over Texas Tech and a loss to West Virginia last weekend.
"We can still play well this weekend," Self said, "without question."