WHEN WORD leaked this summer of the other players involved in the three-team Kevin Love/Andrew Wiggins trade, Joel Embiid texted his mentor seeking confirmation.
Yes, the reports were indeed true, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute verified.
"It was kind of weird because it's like, 'Wow. Really, this is happening?' But it's exciting at the same time," Mbah a Moute said this week before the start of 76ers' training camp. "I never thought that [Embiid] would be in the NBA this quick, let alone be my teammate. It's kind of weird and exciting at the same time, but I'm looking forward to it."
Considering the other names included in the August blockbuster - Love, Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and Thaddeus Young chief among them - the 76ers' acquisition of Mbah a Moute, a journeyman forward, certainly wasn't one to beguile the fanbase. But for Embiid, Philadelphia's Twitter-savvy No. 3 overall draft pick in June, the roster move carried added significance.
The 28-year-old Mbah a Moute, after all, was the one who discovered Embiid's basketball talents, just 3 years ago, back in their native Cameroon. The veteran has advised the ever-intriguing big man ever since, overseeing, mostly from afar, Embiid's meteoric rise from an unknown to perhaps the best prospect in a loaded 2014 draft class.
Now, they are a week into somewhat of a reunion, living in the same city and working together as teammates in year No. 2 of the Sixers' unprecedented rebuilding project.
"When I heard about [the trade], I called all my friends from high school who know that Luc was the one who helped me come over," Embiid, a fun-loving 20-year-old, said with a wide smile. "To me, it's still crazy, and to him [it's crazy], too."
It was at Mbah a Moute's basketball camp where the then-Milwaukee Bucks player first saw Embiid play. At the time, Embiid, now 7-feet tall, was a paper-thin teenager more versed in soccer and volleyball. If he wasn't now playing basketball, Embiid said this week he would be playing volleyball professionally in Europe.
Mbah a Moute was familiar with Embiid - both hail from Cameroon's capital, Yaoundé, and their families were friendly - but Embiid was very young when Mbah a Moute left West Africa to attend high school at Montverde Academy in Florida. But at the camp, the youngster's natural talent on the court was evident.
"For someone who had only been playing basketball, at the time it was like 5 months or something, to have the instincts and to do some of the stuff that he did was like, 'Wow' to me," said Mbah a Moute, a former second-round draft pick out of UCLA.
"He was making moves that guys who've been playing basketball for years couldn't do . . . The way he was running. It was impressive."
From there, Mbah a Moute offered a sense of direction. Embiid would follow in his footsteps, leaving home for America at the age of 16 and enrolling at Montverde. He transferred to the Rock School in Gainesville and then committed to Kansas, where a breakout freshman season put him on track, before his foot injury, to be the draft's top pick.
It remains unclear when Embiid, who underwent June surgery to repair a stress fracture in the navicular bone in his right foot, will play this season, if at all. The Sixers have not publicly put a timetable on his return, or ruled out a de facto redshirt year similar to what Nerlens Noel went through a year ago. Embiid underwent a CT scan a couple weeks ago in Los Angeles and said his doctor told him his foot is healing as it is supposed to.
Embiid said he thinks he will travel with the team while he sits out. Otherwise, while rehabbing, he will study film and listen to his teammates, leaning on Mbah a Moute as well as others to abet his adjustment to the NBA.
In the young center's transition to the pros, Mbah a Moute's relationship with Embiid "can only help," Sixers' general manager Sam Hinkie said. Mbah a Moute, last season the only active NBA player from Cameroon, is the third-oldest player on the Sixers' 20-man training-camp roster, behind only Jason Richardson (33) and Keith Bogans (34), acquired over the weekend.
The 6-8 Mbah a Moute, with career averages of 6.3 points and 4.9 assists and on the last year of a 4-year contract, is on his fourth team in less than a year and a half. After spending his first five pro seasons with the Bucks, he split 2013-14 between the Sacramento Kings and Minnesota Timberwolves. Here, amid a group of unproven young players, he is likely to garner more than the 15.7 minutes he averaged last season.
And at some point, hinging on whether Embiid sees the floor this season, Mbah a Moute could find himself playing alongside the same kid he helped introduce to the basketball world.
"I think he can be really, really good," Mbah a Moute said of Embiid. "He's still got a long way to go and he's still got some hurdles and all that. But if he puts in the work, and I know he will, I think he's got huge, huge, huge potential."