Father of Joel Embiid sees his son play basketball for the first time in Kansas’ victory over Iona

Thomas Embiid landed in Kansas City around 5 p.m. Tuesday evening. It was the first time he’d seen the Midwest.

Really, it would be the first of many firsts. He arrived in Lawrence an hour or so later and took his first step in Allen Fieldhouse. He watched the fans pile in and the building fill to capacity.

Frank Weirich/KANSAN Freshman center Joel Embiid attempts a layup against Iona.

Frank Weirich/KANSAN
Freshman center Joel Embiid attempts a layup against Iona.

Then he witnessed his son, Joel, score 16 points as No. 2 Kansas defeated Iona 86-66.

It was the first time Thomas Embiid had ever seen his child play basketball.

“I am very, very impressed,” the elder Embiid said afterwards.

He wasn’t alone.

“He’s a monster in there,” Iona coach Tim Cluess said. “I don’t think we had the bodies to lean on him. Defensively we lost him, which I don’t know how, he’s pretty easy to find.”

Kansas coaches felt Embiid could develop into an assertive center. Not many expected that development to show in his third college game.

The undersized Gaels tried to pester the seven-footer, but Embiid kept going over them. Way over.

Early in the second half, Naadir Tharpe set up behind the 3-point line and tossed a quick lob to Embiid who stationed himself near the paint. He simply had to hop in order to throw it down.

Embiid’s father wasn’t exactly aware of how far Joel had come after playing basketball for just three years. Perhaps for lack of a stronger English vocabulary, Thomas Embiid could only describe his reaction as “surprised.”

What’s most noticeable is how Embiid changed the game, becoming the big body force Kansas needed after Jeff Withey graduated last year.

Aside from three fouls and four turnovers, Embiid put on a near flawless performance. He shot 7-7 from the field, recorded 13 rebounds and made two blocks. It was Embiid’s first collegiate double-double.

“I don’t think I played well because he was there,” Embiid said of his father. “Coach always gives me his trust and it’s making me more confident.”

Embiid wasn’t the only Jayhawk to benefit from Iona’s lack of size. Perry Ellis recorded his second straight game with at least 20 points (21). Through three games he’s averaging 19 points.

“We can’t stop him,” Embiid said about guarding Ellis in practice. “You would think sometimes he would go off his left shoulder but then he will go off of his right shoulder. He’s very hard to guard.”

Ellis said his skill set is tough to handle when facing a zone defense like the one Iona runs. That zone also allowed the Jayhawks to shoot 57 percent from the field and Embiid to tear the Gaels up inside.

Most of Embiid’s shots came without much of a challenge. Just a quick pass down low and an easy lay in. Others made it seem like the freshman was unguardable. Like the reverse layup he scored under the basket that rolled off his fingertips and through the rim — all while Embiid was looking in the opposite direction. Or when he sidestepped a few defenders while gliding to the rack.

This was a first for Embiid too. His father said Joel came to America to improve himself. As far as Kansas coach Bill Self is concerned, there’s still a few more firsts to go.

“You guys saw just a small glimpse of Embiid’s feet tonight,” Self said. “He’s just figuring stuff out. I still think we haven’t scratched the surface.”

Blake is a senior from Chicago, Ill., studying journalism on the news and information track. Read more from .

  • Updated Nov. 20, 2013 at 2:00 am
  • Edited by Chas Strobel