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Julio-Chitunda-Column
14/01/2014
Embiid, Cameroon's next big thing

SHEFFIELD (Julio Chitunda's African Message) - Cameroon's Joel Embiid is not playing at the level of the celebrated Hakeem Olajuwon just yet, but he has shown that he can become one of the finest centers of all time.

The 19-year-old has an incredible footwork for a player of his height (2.13m), he is quick, keeps getting better and better, and usually spends hours watching tapes of Olajuwon, aka "Hakeem The Dream".

From last April, when Embiid helped the World Team beat the USA Team 112-98 at the 2013 Nike Hoop Summit, and up to his latest performances for the Kansas University Jayhawks, the big man seems to have done his homework during the off-season.

Being a tough defender, as he proved himself to be at the Hoop Summit, is no longer Embiid's only strongest point as he has improved his low-post moves very quickly and has become a lethal scorer.

In matter of months, Embiid went from obscurity to being tipped as a potential top selection in the 2014 NBA Draft.

Since freshman Embiid joined the Jayhawks in September, coach Bill Self has described him as "Young Olajuwon".

There are a lot of similarities between Embiid and Olajuwon, starting with the fact that both hail from West Africa, and that both started to play organised basketball relatively late, between the ages of 15 and 16.

Olajuwon and Embiid, like most African youngsters, used to play football as their primary sport.

However, if Embiid reaches his potential and becomes a top performer, he should do what Olajuwon could not: one day play for Cameroon national team.

Olajuwon played for Nigeria's youth national teams before joining University of Houston, but he never featured for the men's team most probably due to managerial reasons.

If the group of talented Cameroonians currently studying and playing college basketball in the United States come together, they would give Cameroon hope of achieving more than the silver medal accomplished at AfroBasket 2007, and would become a serious threat to top African nations.

Everyone seems to be watching Embiid's progress, including fellow Cameroonian Kenny Kadji who last spring was tipped to be selected high in the 2013 NBA Draft.

Kadji has not made it to the NBA, though he says his countryman Embiid has a bright future: "Joel embiid is a monster. Cameroonian pride. #team327 #thenextbigthing," Kadji tweeted.

Kadji knows what it takes to be in the spotlight. He had an outstanding senior season with the Miami Hurricanes as they won the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) before he entered the NBA Draft Combine.

The 25-year-old remained undrafted, but joined the Cleveland Cavaliers during the pre-season and was let go days before the regular season tipped off.

Kadji went on to play professionally in Germany, but last week the New Yorker Phantoms Braunschweig and Kadji terminated their agreement, and the 2.11m power forward with a sharp ability to shoot from behind the arc, is yet to show what made him a potential NBA player.

Can you imagine a Cameroon national team with the likes of Kadji, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Embiid, Parfait Bitee and Gaston Essengue?

If Embiid is to become the "big thing" in international basket, he just needs to keep learning and working hard.

Julio Chitunda

FIBA

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