One of the biggest storylines of the week is the health of Kansas freshman center Joel Embiid, who isn’t expected to play in the Big 12 tournament this week due to his having a stress fracture in his lower back. What remains to be decided is just how long will Embiid have to sit, with the answer likely impacting the Jayhawks’ draw in the NCAA tournament.
“How quickly and if Jo comes back will be determined by his symptoms and how well he does in rehab,” Self said according to the Lawrence Journal-World. “I am not optimistic that there is a definite time frame, but I’m very optimistic that it’s possible that if our team is successful enough, he could play again this year.”
In the linked story, written by Tom Keegan of the Journal-World, Embiid’s back injury is compared to that of Emeka Okafor during UConn’s 2004 season. Okafor missed the entire Big East tournament with a stress fracture in his lower back, and the Huskies received a two-seed in the NCAA tournament with that health status likely having an impact.
With improved health thanks to the rest Okafor played at least 32 minutes in four of UConn’s six NCAA tournament games, with the exceptions being their Elite 8 win over Alabama (the Huskies rolled to an 87-71 victory) and the Final Four win over Duke (picked up two quick fouls in the first half). That scenario seems to be the hope for Kansas in regards to Embiid, with Self stating that the center won’t return until he’s ready to physically.
It should also be noted that Embiid dealt with lower back issues as a senior in high school, with his high school coach Justin Harden telling the Journal-World that it was a concern last spring.
“When you are 7-feet tall, there’s a lot more to take care of. You are 7-feet tall. There’s more stuff to be concerned with because your body is bigger,” Harden said, referring to tweaking different areas of the body.
“With some rest, he seemed to have it corrected (entering freshman season at KU). I’m sure with the rest he gets now … they have better doctors and trainers and staff over there (at KU) to rehab him and get him back to normal. I’m sure he’ll be all right soon enough,” Harden added.
Lower back problems can be (at the very least) a nuisance for regular people, much less an elite athlete. So with there being no concrete timeline provided by the school, who knows when we’ll see Embiid back on the floor for the Jayhawks. But it’s clearly a situation in which Kansas doesn’t want to rush him back out of fear of Embiid aggravating the injury.