Training Camp Notebook: Embiid Fights Through Flu, Dining with Mr. Smith

by Brian Seltzer
Sixers.com Reporter

Embiid Practice Debut Not to be Denied
Joel Embiid knows pain. Over the past two years, he endured a pair of intensive right foot surgeries, each one followed by lengthy stretches of gruelling rehab. So, by comparison, a touch of the flu should be a relatively minor thing, right?

Certainly not. As just about everyone knows, the flu is no friendly bug. Runny nose, constant coughing, consistent fatigue. Not an ideal way to feel, especially if your job description requires you to bang around with world-class athletes in the low-post.

These symptoms, however, started to trickle their way through Embiid’s system last weekend, then carried over into Monday evening.  Nonetheless, it would have taken a far greater force to keep the center from taking part in a moment he’s long been striving towards.

“I’m feeling pretty good, beside the fact that I’m sick,” Embiid said Tuesday, following the first official practice of his NBA career. “I woke up this morning, and I waited too long for this time, and I got to go.”

Because he was still under the weather, Embiid was allowed to stay back and sleep in Philadelphia Monday, while the rest of the Sixers reported to their training camp, which is located just outside Atlantic City.

Embiid arrived at Stockton University shortly after 10:00 AM Tuesday, as the club was beginning the first of the day’s two workout sessions. Despite being less than 100-percent, he was determined to get on the floor. 

“I did pretty good,” said a sweat-soaked Embiid, before heading back to the hardwood to put up a few more shots. “We mainly worked on the defensive side, and I think I was pretty good.”

Embiid’s presence Tuesday, slightly delayed or not, was a welcomed sight for Brett Brown.  

“I expected him not to practice today,” said the fourth-year head coach. “He stayed in Philadelphia, in his own bed, and he came in and joined in late. He forced himself into practice today. He said, ‘I feel good, I want to go.’ With the time that he has put in over the past few years, he meant it. You respected that instruction.” 

According to Embiid, the Sixers’ medical staff allotted him about 25 minutes of on-court time Tuesday morning. Brown said the third overall pick in the 2014 draft “practiced in a more controlled environment,” which included some five-on-five scrimmaging.

“He’s had a great month of September,” Brown said. “I don’t think he’s missed a beat from a great month of September. You’re sort of judging is it the flu that is slowing him down, and I think that more than anything, but I thought he looked good today.”

Embiid seemed to enjoy himself. He smiled while discussing the “fun” atmosphere and excitement surrounding the Sixers, and was finally able to cross a noteworthy milestone off his list.

“I’m just going to do my job, what coach wants me to do, be a defensive piece, and when needed to, be a scorer, I’m going to be that,” Embiid said. “Every time, the mindset I get when I get on the floor is that I’m the best player on the floor.”

Tuesday, he finally had the chance to be out there. That peksy flu bug didn’t stand a chance.

Big Willie Style in Philly
Before busing down to their training camp headquarters Monday night, Sixers players, coaches, and basketball operations staffers gathered for a private pre-season tip-off dinner at the One Liberty Place Observation Deck, located 50 floors above 16th and Market Streets in Philadelphia’s Center City district. 

That a Sixers co-owner was present for the event wasn’t a surprise. That the co-owner in question turned out to be Will Smith was an entirely different matter. 

Smith, along with actress wife Jada Pinkett Smith, purchased a stake of his hometown franchise in 2011, when Managing Owner Josh Harris, co-Managing Owner David Blitzer, and the rest of the current ownership group assumed control of the Sixers.

Jahlil Okafor and his teammates weren’t told that the Oscar-nominated and Grammy-winning entertainer from West Philadelphia would be dining with them.

“It was great, it was a lot of fun,” said Okafor, who participated in Tuesday’s practice, despite sustaining a minor ankle sprain a few weeks ago. “Will Smith is my favorite celebrity, my favorite actor. It was great to hear him speak.”

Smith shared stories and passed along advice to a crowd consisting mostly of early to mid 20-year olds who grew up on his movies and albums. 

“I think the main thing he said is the company you have around you,” Joel Embiid said. “He was trying to explain the people you have around you affect the type of person you are. He was just trying to tell us to have good people around. That’s the main thing I got from that.”

Okafor was impressed with Smith’s genuine disposition and intentions. 

“We already know about his accolades, how smart he is, and obviously, he’s an entertaining person. It seemed like he really wanted to be there to help us out.”

Brown Sticking With Same Approach
Brett Brown is set for his fourth season as head coach of the Sixers, making him the longest-tenured person to occupy the position since a Hall of Famer of the same last name strolled the team’s sideline from 1997 through 2003.

While the dynamics of the Sixers’ roster might be different now than they were the previous three campaigns, don’t expect Brown’s points of emphasis to change.

“It’s what you know I’m going to say,” Brown said about the material he stressed to the Sixers on the opening day of camp. “We need to have a defensive identity. We need to grow their fitness base. We declare very clearly what the objectives of the next six days are, and they continue to center around defense, around us being in a career-best fitness, and all the pieces of what that means.”

Brown did acknowledge, however, that he’s considered making subtle tweaks to his big picture teaching approach.

“I think the mistake I don’t want to get into is, you can drill all day long, but at the end of the day, they have to know what the pieces equal,” he explained. “I’m reverse engineering this and going more whole stuff, and guarding ourselves with that basic philosophy.”

Much of the instruction that the Sixers received Tuesday revolved around half-court pick-and-roll concepts, and full-court transition defense.

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