The Process: Cameroonian Youngster Builds a Liking to African Legends Dikembe Mutombo and Hakeem Olajuwon
It is rather rare for a 7-foot athlete with little basketball experience to exhibit the well-rounded skills Joel Embiid is displaying.
It is even more astonishing for Philadelphia’s #3 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, whose progress suffered an injury setback and canceled his entire rookie season, to impress in the NBA for the first time, still, with little NBA development grooming.
Oklahoma City head coach, Billy Donovan described the 76ers center as “hard to guard” following the Sixers and OKC game earlier in the season.
Embiid grew up in Cameroon but his relationship with the sport only began five years ago. He was playing soccer and volleyball back home when he got his big break at 17. His height earned him an invitation to a basketball camp, led by Minnesota Timberwolves forward and fellow country-man, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute.
“Those were moves that guys who had been playing for years were making,” said a smitten Mbah a Moute, while referring to Embiid’s talent, at that time.
A move to study in Florida afterwards, would later pave a way to Philadelphia 76ers, who had to wait two full seasons – stress fractures in his back and two back to back foot injuries – to witness his true potential.
Embiid 21, while he played for Kansas Jayhawks (AP)
So far this season, Embiid ranks high in three-point shooting (66.7 percent) even with plans aimed at setting his game to short-range opportunities.
[perfectpullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]“If they leave me open, I’m going to shoot it,”[/perfectpullquote]
He is also versatile in attack with good ball handling skills, good shooting technique and has impressive mobility on defense, backed by well-timed blocks and a good sense to protect the rim. Not an easy feat for a 7-footer.
It is evident that the 22-year-old’s long awaited arrival is one filled with anxiety and excitement but, Embiid’s work is not yet cut out for him.
Aside from previous injuries – still clouding his highly debatable future – his role and impact on court is yet to fully blossom.
“He wants to do so well. He wants the ball,” said coach Brett Brown.
“We run the stuff to get him the ball. Part of his growth is going to be deeper catches, jump hooks, pound, drop step, dunk.”
Brown hopes Embiid can build his way up as a post player and adopt well to the intensity of the NBA.
“Somebody said (Embiid is like) Shaquille O’neal with soccer feet. He is nimble and does things that you can see there is an athlete in that 7-2 body.
“The simplest thing to start his growth, is just a comfort level at a post and him quarterbacking it.
“When you start to turn and face and make finesse moves when you haven’t played in 2 1/2 years and you put it to the floor with NBA athletes, and guards swimming and coming at your legs and ankles, and the ball that you dribbled, this fear of the game goes to a higher level,” said Brown.
But there are no signs of slowing down for the Cameroonian also known as, “The Process.” His style of play already has a likening to Hakeem Olajuwon’s and is growing tremendously considering all factors.
There have also been comparisons to legends, Tim Duncan and Dikembe Mutombo.
Coach Brown while making comparison, …. “You see him and he just has ‘It.’
“Years ago, you saw it with Tim Duncan. I see it with him in regards to a real target offensively and a real sort of centerpiece defensively.”
It is also easy to place Embiid in the same role previously held by Mutombo – who was most defensive player – and just like the latter, could become Sixers’ next big star and the heartbeat of the team.
“He needs to be the crown jewel, the centerpiece of our defense,” Brown said.
Philadelphia legend, Sonny Hill told USA TODAY Sports, “He has a chance to be the most dominant big man in the game today.” He adds, “Quote me. Quote me.”
Highlights of one of Africa’s biggest talents in the NBA for the Houston Rockets, the Nigerian also known as “The Dream,” who went on to a Hall of Fame NBA career, captured Emiid’s attention.
In 2014, the 7-footer told Mike DeCourcy of Sporting News, “When I started playing basketball, my coach back in Cameroon the first day, he gave me a video of Hakeem Olajuwon.
“He told me to watch it every day. After practice, after every practice, I’d watch every move he did — and I’d just keep doing that. I just fell in love with his game, his footwork, how he moves.
[perfectpullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]“I was so proud — I wanted to be like him, because he’s African, moved from Nigeria to the U.S. I just felt if I had the chance to come here, I would try to do the same thing.”[/perfectpullquote]
Not only was the former Rockets’ star an accomplished role model, his style of play mesmerized and made an impact on Embiid.
DeCourcy later said, “He owns physical gifts that call to mind Hakeem Olajuwon and basketball skills reminiscent of Tim Duncan. Embiid has great feet, jumps well, handles the ball like a skilled forward and fires perimeter jumpers with comfort and ease…”
“Just the way he moves,” Embiid said on a conference call with reporters, four days after the Sixers made him the third pick in the draft. “It’s kind of like he’s dancing.”
OKC’s Donovan added, “He’s herky-jerky. He’s got a lot of [Hakeem] Olajuwon in him.”
Nevertheless, Philadelphia is all praises as was seen on Embiid’s debut night against OKC, last month.
“MVP, MVP, MVP,” as they greeted Embiid with chants in the second half, while he shot free shots. As the game wound down, Sixers’ fans continued, “Trust the Process.”
“That was great,” He said. “That’s my motto – Trust the Process.”
Featured Photo: Joel Embiid displays skills similar to legend, Hakeem Olajuwon (Getty Images)