Former Sacramento Kings veteran weighs in on protege Joel Embiid
Joel Embiid might not be available when the Sacramento Kings are on the clock with the eighth overall pick in this year’s draft. But if he is, they’ve probably already done some of their homework by catching up with one of their former players.
Luc Mbah a Moute is one of Embiid’s closest confidants and just so happens to also be an ex-King. The 27-year-old forward spent less than a season with the franchise before being traded to Minnesota last November for Derrick Williams. As a fellow Cameroonian, Mbah a Moute maintains a tight relationship with Embiid, giving the 20-year-old advice and counsel as he prepares to make the leap to the NBA.
“I’m amazed how he’s progressed since I’ve seen him, since I’ve known him the last three years,” Mbah a Moute told Cowbell Kingdom before the Timberwolves’ final game against the Kings last season. “It’s been amazing to watch him grow and progress over the years. I’m excited for him and his future in the NBA, to see how good he can really be and how great, if anything, he can reach.”
Mbah a Moute knew Embiid’s father, Thomas, long before he met Joel. Thomas Embiid was the head of Cameroon’s handball federation and just so happened to have mutual friends with Mbah a Moute’s father. When he first met Embiid, the former Jayhawks center was honing his craft in volleyball, not basketball.
That all changed in 2011. Mbah a Moute made his way back to Cameroon as part of the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders program and was tipped off by one of the local coaches that Embiid had made the switch to hoops. Upon hearing that, the Wolves forward decided to bring Embiid to his camp and watch him play.
“When I saw him, he was really raw,” Mbah a Moute said of Embiid at the time. “He’s still not polished in certain (areas), got a lot of work to do and still raw, I think. But he (had) really just started playing basketball.”
Embiid has meteorically risen out of obscurity in just a matter of three years. Dealing with the pressure of being a highly touted NBA prospect has brought scrutiny to his life that was unimaginable not long ago. He manages the highs and lows by staying in contact with Mbah a Moute, who said he’s spoken to Embiid almost every day since he decided to enter this year’s draft.
Mbah a Moute shared with Embiid his perspective on the NBA Draft process. Like Embiid, Mbah a Moute faced a decision to either stay or leave after his freshman season. Mbah a Moute helped the UCLA Bruins make a run all the way to the 2006 National Championship game, but ultimately fell to the Florida Gators. He decided to play two more seasons before making himself eligible for the 2008 NBA Draft.
When Embiid was unsure of whether to stay in Kansas for another year or leave for the NBA, he turned to Mbah a Moute for help. The 27-year-old forward helped Embiid break down the pros and cons of either staying in Lawrence another year or moving on to the next level.
“There’s a lot that goes into it, so we talked about it,” Mbah a Moute said of deliberating with Embiid on whether or not to turn pro. “Talked about what it meant for him to go into the NBA and what was it for him to stay. All the advantages and disadvantages of just, you know, different situations and we just talked about it.”
Mbah a Moute thinks that Embiid made the right decision. Although there’s uncertainty surrounding the 20-year-old center’s stock following news that he suffered a stress fracture in his right foot, Mbah a Moute believes that Embiid is prepared to make the leap into the league.
Embiid grew exponentially in just his one season under Bill Self, maximizing his talent despite his inexperience. Embiid has an uncanny feel for the game that’s evident in how smoothly he moves on offense for a player of his size, as well as his impressive timing on defense.
“I think he’ll be ready,” Mbah a Moute said when asked if Embiid is prepared to take on the responsibilities of being a leading man for an NBA franchise. “He’s a quiet guy, but I think he’ll be ready to step in there. No one is ever really ready. I think it’s a process, so he’s gonna go through the process and he’s gonna learn and grow. But the main thing is that he continues to get better and continues to improve.”
How good can Joel Embiid become? Weighing his immense talent against the concerns on his health, the answer is anyone’s guess. Not even his mentor can easily answer that question.
“I have no idea, man,” Mbah a moute said. “I mean, he’s progressed so fast and so well over the last couple years that I can’t even tell you.
“But one thing I know is that he’s going to continue to get better and his ceiling is pretty high.”