The Rock's Embiid intrigues UF


Joel Embiid dunks during practice at The Rock gym on Tuesday in Gainesville.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Thursday, September 13, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, September 12, 2012 at 8:01 p.m.

At a recent workout in Gainesville, the newest member of The Rock school's basketball team made his presence felt.

There's an adage that you can't teach 6-foot-11, but for Cameroon native Joel Embiid, there is still plenty to learn. Close to 7-feet in sneakers, Embiid showed nimble feet and a soft touch on a variety of post moves to the basket. He finished with his left and right hand. There was even a dunk or two mixed in to provide the few watching in the bleachers a good show.

“I am working a lot on my post moves because I know I am not ready yet,” Embiid said. “I want to be a low-post player.”

Embiid transferred to The Rock school from Montverde Academy in Clermont over the summer to get more playing time for the 2013 season. Although Embiid has played basketball just 18 months, he's drawing attention from several Division I schools, including Florida. Embiid said he's received scholarship offers from UF, Louisville, Marquette, Texas, DePaul, Vanderbilt, SMU, Kansas and Kansas State.

“The feel he has for the game in playing only 18 months is tremendous,” The Rock school coach Justin Harden said. “There's guys who have been playing 10 or 15 years who are his age that don't have anywhere close to the feel for the game that he does. He has a high basketball IQ, which is rare to someone who is so new to the game.”

As a new teammate, Embiid is fitting in. The Rock point guard Mitchell Wilbekin, the younger brother of Florida point guard Scottie Wilbekin, said the 6-foot-11 center is fun to be around.

“He's only been here for two, three weeks of classes, but he's getting to know all the guys,” Wilbekin said. “When we work out, he plays with a lot of intensity. He's a 7-footer and he catches just about every pass you throw to him.”

Volleyball was Embiid's first love growing up in Yaounde, Cameroon. He didn't even pick up a basketball until after his 15th birthday. But he found he was good at hoops, and with help from a friend, left his native country for the United States.

Last season at Montverde, Embiid lived in the dorms while playing with current UF freshman Michael Frazier and 2013 Florida commitment Kasey Hill. But he played sparingly behind Montverde big man Dakari Johnson. That led to his offseason decision to change schools. He is currently living in Gainesville as an exchange student with a family of an eighth-grade student at The Rock.

“I'm going to play a lot, have a lot of minutes,” Embiid said. “With the way Coach Harden is working me, I think it will be for the best.”

Said Harden: “He's been a real delight. When I was asked if we were interested in Joel transferring to our school, I hadn't seen him play, didn't know anything about him other than what I was told by the guy who tried to help get him here. And I've been more impressed since I got here than what they even told me. They said he was a high-caliber prospect and potential NBA player, but a lot of people have said that, especially international students. He's every bit as good as they've told me he would be.”

Whether Embiid's future includes staying in Gainesville to play for Florida remains to be seen. The Gators already have three commitments for the 2013 class — Hill and big men Chris Walker (6-8) and Schuyler Rimmer (6-9). Embiid said he plans to announce his commitment in early November. He's been to the O'Connell Center for UF games and took an unofficial visit to Marquette over the summer.

“Michael Frazier, he's a really good friend of mine,” Embiid said. “Kasey (Hill) has signed with Florida. I have many friends who are going there. I like coach Billy Donovan, he's a great coach. I heard he helped many big men to go to the league.”

ESPN.com rates Embiid as a three-star prospect, the 11th best center in the country and sixth best player in the state for 2013. Harden said a main area of emphasis during the season will be improving his physical strength. Embiid is a narrow-shouldered 220 pounds.

“Everyone has already recognized that, from the coaches who have already been in to see him, who have been recruiting him, and I talked to them on a consistent basis,” Harden said. “Their number one thing is getting his strength up.

“It's not like he's scrawny. He's 220 (pounds) so he's got decent weight on him, but in order to battle with the really big guys in the NCAA, he's gotta probably put on at least 25 more pounds. I imagine him going up against (Florida center) Patric Young. I mean, Pat is going to push him aside. And he gets pushed aside a little bit, too, by some of our guys.”

Harden said Embiid is working hard in the weight room. He also thinks Embiid could fit in well with an up-tempo offense. The Rock runs a high-motion offense, the same offense that Donovan runs with the Gators. So far, Harden said Embiid has been adept with the pick-and-roll and setting screens.

“He can run the floor really well and he can get out,” Harden said. “He can catch awkward balls. Some bigs can't catch a ball unless it's dropped right in their lap. He can catch balls that are somewhat over his shoulder or behind him. He can make those adjustments.”

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