LAWRENCE — Kansas coach Bill Self is facing a balancing act between making sure star freshman Joel Embiid recovers from back and knee injuries yet doesn’t miss too much time on the court.
The 7-footer sprained his knee against TCU on Jan. 25 and has been dealing with back pain for a while. While he hasn’t missed any games, his playing time has decreased. He played only 18 minutes in an overtime loss to Kansas State on Monday night.
The seventh-ranked Jayhawks play the Horned Frogs again on Saturday.
“Of course you think long-term, but you also know that he’ll have a better chance to perform in games in the future the less time he’s off now,” Self said Thursday. “We’re not going to do anything to jeopardize him at all, but based on the doctors and the trainers, they’ll make the call along with Joel on him being honest with us and how he’s feeling.”
Self said MRI exams came back negative, and Embiid is feeling better after missing practice all week. But he’d need to work out Friday in order to play Saturday.
“A lot of times there’s no reason to hold guys out if they’re healthy, too. We’ll make that determination in the next few days,” Self said.
Embiid has gained attention this season while averaging nearly 11 points and eight rebounds for the Jayhawks. Those numbers may appear modest, but they have NBA scouts salivating because Embiid, a native of Cameroon, has only been playing for a few years.
With footwork honed on soccer fields and timing developed on volleyball courts, Embiid has shown the kind of natural ability that has drawn comparisons to Hakeem Olajuwon.
He was two blocks shy of a triple-double against Oklahoma State, and he still managed 11 points and 12 rebounds last week against West Virginia despite dealing with pain.
Embiid hasn’t played more than 17 minutes in any of his last three games.
“He’s looking around to see if he’s going to get hit as opposed to initiating contact because he’s sore and hurts in different areas, so yeah, I think there’s certainly some signs he hasn’t been himself,” Self said. “But like I said before, it would be like to me if you’re a running back and your high ankle sprain hasn’t totally healed but you could go out there.”
In other news, Self said he planned to sit down with reserve forward Jamari Traylor on Thursday to discuss his status for Saturday’s game. Traylor sat out Monday night’s game for what Self called disciplinary reasons.
“Jamari and I are going to visit today, and I’ll hold off on that until after we visit,” Self said. “But I certainly anticipate that visit going well.”