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Karl Lindholm: Does Kansas connect to Boston — through Cameroon?

Editor’s note: Independentsports columnist Karl Lindholm is filing his reports this year from Yaounde, Cameroon, West Africa.
Are the Boston Celtics trying to lose games on purpose?
Well, not exactly.
It’s clear the Celtics’ effort on the floor in games is admirable, but the team is not competitive with the best in the league.
That’s OK. Losing is good, some say. The Celtics thus position themselves for the upcoming draft of amateur players (and international players) in late June, a draft considered especially rich in the depth and quality of talent this year.
Some argue that University of Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins is the best young prospect since LeBron James. Kentucky’s Julius Randle and Jabari Parker of Duke, also freshmen, are believed to be future NBA stars.
Another freshman from Kansas, however, may be the best prospect of all — and he is playing in only his third year of organized basketball!
Joel Embiid (em-BEED) is the 7-foot, 250-pound son of Thomas and Christina Embiid, the brother of Arthur and Muriel, of Yaounde, Cameroon, this capital city of 1.7 million in which I find myself this year.
Embiid is hardly a refined talent at this point — and it’s not inconceivable that he will remain at Kansas to further improve his game. When asked his plans, he smiles and replies that he will be at Kansas “all four years,” but few believe that. His potential seems unlimited.  He could go as high as one or two this spring.
Embiid played only a little pick-up basketball growing up in Cameroon — he “dabbled,” as he put it. His sports were volleyball, playing on a team for five years, and soccer, where he was a forward.  “I was good for headers,” he said. “My dad wanted me to be a professional volleyball player.”
His parents were athletes, his father a professional team handball player, who also played volleyball and soccer, and his mother a competitive volleyball player. In November, Thomas, a colonel in the Cameroonian army, came to America and saw his son play in a basketball game for the first time.
Embiid’s story exhibits the international reach of hoop. In the summer of 2011, Joel attended a basketball camp in Yaounde organized by Richard Mbah a Moute (BAH-a-MOU-tay). Mbah a Moute, also from Yaounde, was a star at UCLA and is now in his sixth year in the NBA, playing this year for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
At Mbah a Moute’s camp, Embiid was selected as one of the top five players, a distinction which earned him a trip to South Africa and another camp organized by Basketball Beyond Borders.
His play there led to the decision to come to America that fall to attend Montverde Academy in Florida, Mbah a Moute’s training ground, to pursue the game seriously and attend school. He transferred last year to The Rock School, a secondary school in Gainesville, Fla., a basketball powerhouse.
He was so clumsy in his first forays on the court that his teammates at Montverde laughed at him. His coach, Kevin Boyle, stopped practice and gathered the team together and dispatched Joel to get water. Boyle told the team, “Laugh all you want.  But in five years you will be asking him for a loan. You have no idea how good he is going to be.” 
When Coach Bill Self of Kansas came The Rock School on a recruiting visit, he overlooked Joel’s inexperience. When asked his opinion of his potential, Self said, “Are you kidding? He could be the No. 1 pick in the draft.  He can run. He’s got touch. He’s unbelievable. He’ll be the best big man we’ve ever coached.”
Now, halfway through his first year at Kansas, Joel is developing fast at the highest level of college basketball, playing 22 minutes a game, averaging 11 points, with over seven rebounds and two or three blocked shots a game.
As sportswriter Jason King observed, “He has the wingspan of a pterodactyl and the footwork of a ballet dancer.” That wingspan is 7’5” with his arms outstretched wide, and from the top of his fingertips upstretched to the floor he measures 9’6”.
King wrote in a recent piece in the on-line magazine “Bleacher Report” that Embiid is exhibiting the “footwork and distance runner’s stride he developed on the soccer field, the aggression he used spiking volleyballs, the discipline and selflessness instilled by his parents.”
Coach Self calls Embiid a “sponge,” saying “he has a natural feel, natural instincts. Of all the guys on our team, he’s the most instinctive basketball guy we have. We never have to tell him something twice.”
Like so many in Yaounde, Embiid speaks French, English and his native Cameroonian language. His basketball hero is Hakeem Olajuwon, from neighboring Nigeria, perhaps the most nimble big man in the history of the sport. Olajuwon also picked up the game late in his adolescence (15). Embiid watches tapes of Olajuwon religiously, then goes out and duplicates his distinctive post moves.
So, stay tuned. Remember the name “Joel Embiid.” Wouldn’t it be fun to see this young man from Cameroon wearing the Celtic green, following in the footsteps of powerful post players from the past, Russell, Cowens, Parish, and Garnett.
Note to Jeff Brown, Middlebury College men’s coach: Trust me, I’m keeping my eye out here in Yaounde for a 7-footer for you too. 

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