Joel Embiid now must stand tall, broken foot and all, under the weight of past heartbreak.
The surgery is complete, with two screws inserted into a bone in the NBA prospect's right foot. The 7-foot center won't be working out for any more teams, and he won't be in attendance at the June 26 draft in Brooklyn. And as he leaves the spotlight, the shadows of talented big men who have come before will envelop his draft stock.
"The surgery went very well and I'm confident that after appropriate healing he will be able to return to NBA basketball," Embiid's surgeon, Richard Ferkel, said in a news release. "Joel tolerated the surgery without difficulty and will begin his rehabilitation in the near future."
DETAILS: More on Embiid's foot
NO. 1 PICK: What do Cavs want?
The injury typically takes four to eight months to heal, meaning Embiid likely would not be on the court to start next season but could be ready by the start of 2015. No timetable was stated in the release, but expect NBA teams to scrutinize any information they can get on the surgery over the next week leading into the draft.
Bill Walton never recovered fully from stress fractures in his feet. Neither did Yao Ming. Greg Oden, the last great 7-foot prospect who went first overall in 2007, had a series of knee injuries undercut his enormous potential before he even could make an impact.
GALLERY: Embiid's season at Kansas
The expression in baseball is TINSTAAPP, meaning "there is no such thing as a pitching prospect," a reference to the many arm injuries that have taken down potential staff aces. But that now seems to apply to NBA center prospects, as well.
Embiid is not Walton, whose career was one injury after another even before he had his first issues with foot stress fractures in 1978. But the bad back that didn't allow him to finish his lone college season at Kansas will weigh on the minds of any team looking to draft him. Embiid overcame the back issue to impress everyone in workouts, but that won't clear up concerns that he may simply be injury prone.
CAVALIERS: They can't afford Embiid risk
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And Embiid is not Yao, who carried 300-plus pounds on his 7-6 frame. But part of the Cameroon native's appeal to scouts was his ability to add bulk to his wide-but-thin build, filling out beyond his current 240 pounds. Can he do that if he needs to worry about foot issues?
Embiid also is not Zydrunas Ilgauskas, the Lithuanian giant who had the same stress fracture in his right foot as a 24-year-old and went on to play many healthy, high-level years. Embiid relies much more on his athleticism than Ilgauskas, the Cleveland Cavaliers center who was 7-3 and deftly skilled.
So the Cavaliers likely will pass on Embiid with the No. 1 pick. The Milwaukee Bucks, who already have an injured center in Larry Sanders, probably will make the same decision. Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker, potential superstar small forwards, make their decisions easy.
And from there, it's anyone's guess.
GALLERY: Best players by position in the NBA draft
USA Today Sports' Scott Gleeson picks who he thinks are the best prospects in the draft by position.
The Philadelphia 76ers, who have the third and 10th picks (along with five second-rounders), took an injured big man last year in Nerlens Noel. He was coming off knee ligament surgery and missed the entire 2013-14 season, but the team says he improved over his time off and is fine now. Noel and Embiid could be the foundation of a remarkable defensive frontcourt, or they could be the fount of an endless cycle of rehabilitation and frustration.
The Orlando Magic (drafting fourth overall), Utah Jazz (fifth), Boston Celtics (sixth) and Los Angeles Lakers (seventh) all make sense as landing spots for Embiid. All of those teams can afford a swing-for-the-fences pick and, with the exception of the Magic, all could use help at center.
But this isn't about needs, not with a prospect like Embiid. He's not only the best 7-foot prospect since Oden, but he also stands well above other center prospects in this draft. In this highly praised draft class, the center position is weak, with unproven Bosnian big man Jusuf Nurkic probably being the No. 2 option.
If a general manager believes Embiid will recovery fully, he will be the best prospect on the board by that third pick and can't be passed up. And if he's viewed as the next in this long line of great center prospects who never pan out, then he may take a slide as long as his enormous wingspan.
VIDEO: Embiid, others on draft-day suits and emotions
USA TODAY Sports catches up with top draft picks Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid and Aaron Gordon to discuss various topics about the draft and some of their NBA expectations.
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