September 29, 2014

PHILADELPHIA (AP) Joel Embiid has adopted a playful persona on social media, letting Philadelphia 76ers fans in on his celebrity crushes or endorsements 140 characters at a time.

Sometimes, though, he refuses to smile during photo ops - and no, it's not because he's on one of the worst teams in the NBA.

Embiid has crafted a running gag out his draft night highlight when a slightly-delayed broadcast caught the rookie out of Kansas sitting stone faced when his name was called as the third overall pick.

He had more fun at media day on Monday, refusing to crack, even when nudged by teammates Nerlens Noel and Michael Carter-Williams. At one photo station, the other two starters yukked it up as Embiid stood motionless, arms at his side, without a smile to be found.

It was all in good fun, of course. And when Embiid, of Cameroon, took his turn in front of an Instagram station set up on the Wells Fargo Center court, his eyes widened as he snapped a fast picture. His caption read, ''I'm Rihanna's spirit animal.''

Rihanna, the pop sensation, has been a popular obsession for the 7-foot center, though he insisted he's not really trying to date the singer.

At least, not yet.

''I tweet like everybody else,'' Embiid, who has more than 358,000 followers on his (at)joelembiid Twitter account.

''Everywhere I go people talk to me about it and it doesn't bother me. I don't think I will say anything bad or do anything wrong, and when I'm back playing basketball that's something that I won't do,'' he said. ''When I start with my rehab, that's something I won't do.

''I just do it now because I have nothing else to do.''

May as well follow Embiid now because he'll have plenty of time to tweet.

With training camp set to open Tuesday, Embiid remained indefinitely sidelined because of a broken right foot suffered during a pre-draft workout. Embiid's injury was serious enough that he'll likely miss the rest of the season, though not enough of a long-term scare for the Sixers to shy away from burning a lottery pick on him. Embiid, who played one season at Kansas, is part of a nucleus with Noel and Carter-Williams, the NBA rookie of the year, which the Sixers expect to carry them back into Eastern Conference contention.

When? The best Noel could offer was ''sometime soon.''

It won't be this year. Carter-Williams is the only returning starter off a team that won only 19 games and matched an NBA record with 26 straight losses. The Sixers have loaded their roster with stopgap players and D-League castoffs as they set their true sights on contending in three or four years.

For now, they suffer. Led by second-year coach Brett Brown, the rebuilding Sixers are clearly willing to wait.

They acquired former Kentucky big man Noel on a draft-night deal in 2013 and he never played a game as he recovered from the torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. The year before, former center Andrew Bynum never played a second for the Sixers because of bad knees.

Noel knows the agony of sitting, watching, working out, without ever getting a splash of playing time. He told Embiid he'll have to become a ''sponge'' and embrace the learning opportunities he'll have this season.

''Coach Brown would come down to the end of the bench during timeouts last year and he would ask me how the game was going and then would seriously listen to my responses,'' Noel said. ''After the game, he would sit me down and talk more about it, so I think that Coach Brown is the perfect coach for this situation because he wants his players to learn. Coach experienced a similar thing with me so I think he's going to do an even better job with Joel.''

The Sixers clearly like what they have in Embiid.

Embiid, who grew up playing soccer and volleyball, only decided to pursue basketball a few years ago. He started to blossom as a senior at The Rock School and ultimately chose to attend Kansas, where he arrived with less fanfare than fellow freshmen Andrew Wiggins and Wayne Selden.

Embiid hurt his back while landing awkwardly during a game late in the season, and missed the Jayhawks' final two regular-season games and the Big 12 tournament. He also missed a victory over Eastern Kentucky and a season-ending loss to Stanford in the NCAA tournament, after which he said that he would have been able to play had Kansas advanced to the second weekend.

''I'm happy that I went to Kansas. I'm disappointed I just went for one year,'' Embiid said. ''I was nervous when I decided to leave to Kansas, but I think I made the right decision.''

Embiid's tweets and Instagram account may be more entertaining than the Sixers this season. He posted a photo on his JoelEmbiid feed Monday of him with Noel and the caption, ''I knew this dude was taller than me.... He's like 7'1 and I'm 6'8!!!! He's definitely playing the 5.''

Embiid would rather trade the keyboard for hitting the boards in Philadelphia.

Until then, he sits. And tweets.

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