Kansas Basketball: Comparing Joel Embiid and Hakeem Olajuwon's Freshman Years

Doug BrodessCorrespondent IJanuary 31, 2014

Kansas center Joel Embiid (21) works around Iowa State forward Georges Niang, back, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Lawrence, Kan., Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014. Kansas won 92-81. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
Orlin Wagner/Associated Press

Kansas head coach Bill Self was not the first person to compare his fab frosh, Joel Embiid, with a young Hakeem Olajuwon.

The athletic 7-footer shared recently with Sporting News' Mike DeCourcy how far back this link has been made:

When I started playing basketball, my coach back in Cameroon the first day he gave me a video of Hakeem Olajuwon. He told me to watch it every day. After practice, after every practice, I’d watch every move he did — and I’d just keep doing that. I just fell in love with his game, his footwork, how he moves. I was so proud — I wanted to be like him, because he’s African, moved from Nigeria to the U.S. I just felt if I had the chance to come here, I would try to do the same thing.

DeCourcy went public about Embiid before he played a collegiate game at KU:

He owns physical gifts that call to mind Hakeem Olajuwon and basketball skills reminiscent of Tim Duncan. Embiid has great feet, jumps well, handles the ball like a skilled forward and fires perimeter jumpers with comfort and ease. When he learns how to apply all this, when he comes to terms with how truly talented he is--in the way Olajuwon did after a year with the Houston Cougars--Embiid will be a basketball monster.

Before official practices began in October, Self said:

He kind of reminds me a little bit of (Hakeem) Olajuwon early in his career. I’m not saying he’s Olajuwon. I’m not saying that at all. But you know, some similarities when he was real raw when he was young, but always had great feet, light on his feet. I think Joel’s the same way.

It is nearly impossible to watch a Jayhawks game without a statement being made likening KU's starting first-year center to the former member of University of Houston's Phi Slamma Jamma.

We know that they share similar African heritages. They both started to pick up the game in their mid-teens. Embiid is almost the exact same height (7'0") and weight (250 lbs.) as Olajuwon (7'0" and 255 lbs).

But, these are not the similarities that have fueled college basketball analysts, columnists and fans' excitement about Embiid's upside and their comparing him with The Dream. 

Are all of the comparisons justified? Is it a bunch of hype, or is Embiid legitimately as good as the 12-time NBA All-Star when Olajuwon was a freshman at UH?

To make a reasonable comparison, we will review their "per 40 minutes" freshman stats. Both players' statistics are provided by Sports Reference.com.

Here we go!


Olajuwon was a fantastic rebounder. He worked hard to block out his opponents, consistently sealing them off the boards.

He also had a great sense of where missed shots were heading when they came off the rim.

Embiid is an athletic freak who is improving game by game as a rebounder. Instead of just relying on his natural abilities, he is becoming a beast on the boards.

Back in the day, Olajuwon averaged 13.5 boards per 40 minutes. Embiid is averaging 13.3 rebounds per 40 minutes (7.6 RPG).

Can you get much closer than that?



Over his three years at Houston, Olajuwon rejected 454 shots, of which 72 came in his freshman season (5.4 blocks per 40 minutes).

He used great instincts to anticipate shots and, many times, knocked them out of the air to his Cougar teammates.

Embiid is an impressive rim protector, challenging and discouraging the Jayhawks opponents' shots. Recently against Oklahoma State, he put on a shot-blocking clinic, thwacking eight Cowboys' field-goal attempts.

In his first 20 games, he has zapped 54 of KU's opponents' field-goal attempts (4.7 blocks per 40 minutes).

I would not be surprised if, by season's end, Embiid's blocks-per-40 average matches Hakeem's frosh numbers. 

Brennan Linsley/Associated Press


When it comes to big men who can shoot, Olajuwon is among the best who ever played the game. He had excellent post moves and a superior mid-range game.

As a freshman, he shot 60.7 percent from the field and, surprisingly, 56.3 percent from the line.

Embiid gets most of his opportunities in or around the paint. ESPN's postgame research notes from KU's most recent game against Iowa State stated that "All 14 of Embiid's points came from his paint touches."

So far in the 2013-14 season, Embiid is shooting 65.9 percent from the floor and 66 percent from the line. 

While he may throw down more shots with authority than Olajuwon did, Embiid has shown that he can also knock down shots out to the arc.

Not bad to be shooting better than Hakeem.   



The Houston team that Olajuwon was on as a freshman (1981-82) had plenty of offensive firepower. Robert Williams, Clyde Drexler, Larry Micheaux and Michael Young all averaged double figures in scoring. 

In his first season, Olajuwon scored 8.3 PPG (18.1 points per 40 minutes).

Like most seasons, Kansas has excellent scoring balance with multiple players who can score points in bunches.

After 20 games, Andrew Wiggins (16.5 PPG) and Perry Ellis (13.3 PPG) are KU's top two leading scorers. Embiid is putting up 11.4 PPG (19.9 points per 40 minutes).

He has only one single-figure scoring game (six points against Oklahoma) since mid-December. While he may not set any records, Embiid is a consistent scorer who can be depended on to put up his fair share.


Looking Ahead

Joel Embiid is an emerging superstar. Since he is actually getting it done on the court, the talk surrounding his rapid rise is not exaggeration or embellishment.

The above figures demonstrate that Embiid is, in fact, tracking with Olajuwon's freshman season.

As big of an impact as Andrew Wiggins is having on KU's 2013-14 success, this young 7-footer may be the one who actually will propel Bill Self's squad to this year's Final Four in North Texas.