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Joel Embiid recalls life-altering basketball camp as a teen, growth in confidence

An unlikely source fueled the beginning of Embiid’s basketball journey.

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Orlando Magic Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

Have you ever imagined living in a world where Philadelphia Sixer Joel Embiid wasn’t one of the most dominant players in the NBA?

That reality almost existed, if not for former Philadelphia Sixer Luc Mbah a Moute.

Yes, you read that right.

Speaking with Golden State Warrior Draymond Green on his podcast, The Draymond Green Show, Embiid conjured up memories of being a teenager and having his eyes set on playing a sport other than basketball.

“At around 16 years old, I was about to actually go to France to try to become a professional volleyball player, until Luc Mbah a Moute came back to Cameroon and had a camp,” Embiid said.

“A camp I didn’t even wanna go to because I had just started playing basketball like three months before that,” he added, “so I was like ‘I’m not good enough, these guys have been playing basketball their whole lives, there’s no way I’m gonna get picked for this camp.”

As it turns out, attending the camp led to an opportunity that put him on an entirely new career trajectory.

Noticing Embiid’s raw potential, Mbah a Moute latched onto the role as his mentor, helping his fellow Cameroonian make the move to the United States and enroll at Montverde Academy.

With playing time hard to come by, Embiid eventually transferred to The Rock School in Florida, which in turn led to committing to Kansas.

If you can believe it, Embiid’s confidence, which wasn’t high to begin with, took such a tailspin not long into his career as a Jayhawk that he ended up in the office of coach Bill Self confessing his doubts.

“The first practice, it wasn’t really a practice it was like a scrimmage that we had,” Embiid began. “I was a freshman, we had Tarik Black, he was a senior transfer from Memphis.”

“People were watching, the women’s team was watching, (Black) dunked on me so hard I was like ‘I’m not ready for this, there’s no way’” he added. “I go to coach Self’s office, I’m like ‘coach I can’t do this, I need to redshirt.’”

Self didn’t want to hear any of that, while Embiid’s doubts still didn’t go away.

“I told him and he was like ‘are you kidding me? You’re gonna be a number one pick in two years,’” said Embiid, recalling the moment.

“Before I got to college I was always told that coaches lie all the time and then I’m like ‘this dude is lying to my face, there’s no way. I’m not believing whatever he says.’”

According to Embiid, the tide began to turn thanks to Kansas teammate Andrew Wiggins, whose own attention-grabbing play provided Embiid with a unique opportunity.

“One thing that people don’t know is that I’m always gonna be so thankful for him because when we went to college, he had so much hype and so much attention,” Embiid said. “We always had so many scouts, so I guess I was kind of also using that opportunity to show them what I could do.

“When they would come in the gym, I would be randomly working the Hakeem Dream Shake and show them that ‘yeah, I got it.’”

Asked by Green about the moment he realized playing in the NBA became “easy,” it’s absolutely no surprise Embiid admitted it didn’t take long.

For the 7-foot big man, the epiphany came in his NBA debut.

“The first moment that I thought that I had a chance wasn’t until I stepped on the NBA floor for the first time, my third year against OKC,” Embiid said. “I stepped on the floor, Steven Adams was guarding me and all that stuff, I scored my first bucket and was like ‘damn, this is easy.’”

He added; “I like to show that I’m better than everybody else and that’s why I was going crazy on Twitter whenever I was playing in games, whether it was talking trash or kicking their ass on the floor, it was fun. That’s when I really found out that ‘yeah, it’s easy. I got a chance.’”