Embiid shines vs. Iona, with father in the stands

Kansas center Joel Embiid takes off to the bucket against Iona forward David Laury during the first half on Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2013 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Thomas Embiid, father of Joel Embiid smiles as he talks with media members about watching his son play basketball for the first time. Embiid arrived in Lawrence on a visit from Cameroon shortly before the game.

Kansas 86, Iona 66

Box score

Dressed impeccably in suit and tie, Cameroon military man Thomas Embiid sat proudly in Kansas University’s parents’ section Tuesday night, watching his son play basketball for the very first time.

“I am very proud of Joel,” Thomas Embiid said as he descended 10 rows of bleachers behind Iona’s bench after watching his 7-foot son explode for 16 points and 13 rebounds in the Jayhawks’ 86-66 victory over the Gaels in Allen Fieldhouse.

“Before he left Cameroon (in 2011 for high school in U.S.), I watched him play volleyball, but never basketball,” added Thomas, who played professional handball in Yaounde, Cameroon, but also dabbled in soccer and basketball.

“It was very exciting especially in front of all the fans. This is a fantastic public. I have noticed they love Joel. There is a fanclub of Joel (in student section),” Thomas observed.

Joel Embiid was darn near perfect with dad in the stands. The freshman sensation went 7-of-7 from the field and 2-of-4 from the line. He also had two blocks in 26 minutes. The only negative stats? Four turnovers.

“I was excited,” Joel said of dad watching him play. “He got in the USA two days ago. He was in Washington. He just got here at 5 or 6 (p.m.). Somebody had to go pick him up (at airport).

“It’s the first time he’s seen me in action, so it was fun.”

Embiid scored eight points off 4-of-4 shooting the first half with four rebounds in 13 minutes as the Jayhawks led, 41-36, at the break.

He helped make up for the foul trouble of senior forward Tarik Black, who played just the first five minutes of the opening half before being seated with two fouls.

“I don’t think I played well because he was there,” Embiid said, noting he was well aware dad would be in the stands. “I just played more confident. I had more confidence.”

KU coach Bill Self was pleased Joel was able to play so well in his debut in front of papa.

“It’s the first time we’ve met him. He was the best-dressed man in the building that’s for sure,” Self said with a smile. “That’s the first basketball game he’s seen. It had to be pretty cool never seeing anything like this and your first experience is Allen Fieldhouse.”

Embiid had an assortment of highlight-reel plays.

In the first half, he drove hard to the goal for a bucket. He also leaped very high to flush a lob from Naadir Tharpe, had a vicious block of Iona’s Daniel Robinson, had a hustle play in which he dove for a loose ball with Iona’s Isaiah Williams on the defensive end.

He also ripped a rebound from the clutches of an Iona player and showed good vision in finding a cutting Andrew White with a pin-point pass in the lane.

“I thought Joel was a definitely a factor in each half,” Self said. “He was good after he got in a flow. It was good to see Joel make some shots. He’s been kind of rushed up to this point (with 11 points and 11 boards total in KU’s first two wins).”

Self has said it was just a matter of time before Embiid had a breakout game.

“He just needs reps. He will look good some days and won’t look good some days,” Self said. “You saw a small glimpse of how good his feet are tonight. He’s smart. He gets it, is figuring stuff out all the time; I’m real pleased with his development. I still think we’re not even scratching the surface.

“He does things in practice … the ball will be bouncing and he’ll kick the ball to me by doing some soccer move — things 7-footers can’t do, how coordinated he is. I don’t know if he’s the greatest runner or highest jumper. With that length … he doesn’t take that many strides to get down the floor. I think he has a chance to be a special player.”

His proud dad sounds like a man who realizes he made the smart decision to send Joel to high school in the U.S. Embiid emerged as a top recruit last season at The Rock in Gainesville, Fla.

“It’s a surprise, a good surprise,” Thomas said of his son’s success in hoops. “He came here to improve himself first and do what he wanted to do. After the game I was proud. I told him congratulations to play at a high level.”

The Jayhawks, by the way, put this one away courtesy of a 18-3 run that upped a 64-56 lead at 9:20 to 82-59. Embiid had six points in that run.

Embiid’s dad will stick around for Friday’s 7 p.m., game against Towson before returning home.

“Hey y’all I had a dream.I had a dunk and my dad started running on the floor for the game against Towson — let’s see if it’s happening Friday,” Joel Embiid Tweeted after the game and before leaving the fieldhouse.