Jayhawks' Embiid participation in Big 12 championship uncertain

Monday, March 3, 2014 | 7:13 p.m. CST
Kansas center Joel Embiid, No. 21, shoots during a game in February. Embiid will sit out the Jayhawks' final two games in the regular season with back pain.

LAWRENCE, Kan. — Joel Embiid will sit out the final two regular-season games for No. 8 Kansas so he can rest a lower back strain — the same one that already caused him to miss a game. It's possible the freshman center could be out throughout the Big 12 tournament.

Jayhawks coach Bill Self said Monday that Embiid re-aggravated the injury and experts have told the team's training staff that the best remedy is simply rest. An MRI exam of his lower back came back negative.

"We've made a decision that since we are so close to the postseason, we will re-evaluate him on Sunday," Self said. "If the discomfort ceases, he should be able to practice on Monday and participate in the Big 12 championship. If he's still having symptoms of tightness and soreness, then we will look at sitting him longer through the postseason conference tournament."

The Jayhawks, who have already wrapped up their 10th straight Big 12 championship, play host to Texas Tech on Wednesday night. They finish the regular season Saturday at West Virginia.

The team has a first-round bye in the Big 12 tournament, which starts March 12.

"There is no reason why he should not be feeling much better by the NCAA tournament," Self said. "The doctors feel that amount of time off should do him wonders for how he is feeling."

The 7-foot Embiid has been a revelation this season, averaging 11.2 points and 8.1 rebounds despite only playing basketball for a few years. The native of Cameroon is expected to be a lottery pick if he declares for the NBA draft, though he told The Associated Press in a recent interview that he's leaning toward returning to Kansas for his sophomore season.

Either way, his ability to guard the rim — he's already set the school's freshman record for blocks — and create match-up problems in the paint will be invaluable in the NCAA tournament.

Embiid missed the Jayhawks' game against TCU on Feb. 15 with the same back injury but came back to average 14 points and 10.3 rebounds during the past four games. That includes a 12-point, 13-rebound performance against Oklahoma and a 13-point, 13-rebound outing against Oklahoma State.

"It should not be an injury that keeps him out the rest of the season," Self said. "Last time he was off five days, and that worked nicely for him, and he was able to come back 100 percent."

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