Kansas coach Bill Self said of Embiid: "I believe Philadelphia will fall in love with Joel and everybody will look back five years from now and say what a great night it was in 2014."
The team used the 10th overall pick on Louisiana-Lafayette guard Elfrid Payton. The Sixers then traded Payton to the Orlando Magic for Croatian star Dario Saric, a future first-round pick and a future second-round selection. The second-rounder is reportedly for 2015. The first-rounder is the 2017 top-11 pick the Sixers sent to the Magic in the Andrew Bynum deal.
Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie was not at the draft and was not available to comment.
Saric is a 6-foot-10 forward with good court vision in the Toni Kukoc mode. He signed a three-year contract to play in the Turkish League earlier this week. Saric is expected to spend at least two more years overseas.
The Sixers acquired two first-round picks who might not see the court next season. But that didn't take away from the team's excitement.
"We are delighted to welcome our two first-round picks to this draft, Joel Embiid and Dario Saric," Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie said in a press release. "These two 20-year-old represent another layer to the construction of our program."
In the second round, the team selected Clemson swingman K.J. McDaniels (32d pick), Syracuse forward Jerami Grant (39th), Louisville guard Russ Smith (47th) and Serbian point guard Vasilije Micic (52d) and Serbian forward Nemanja Dangubic (54th).
They later traded Smith and their 54th overall pick.
Smith was traded to the New Orleans Pelicans for the rights to Pierre Jackson. The Sixers drafted Jackson in the second round last season and traded him to New Orleans. He spent this past season overseas and in the NBA Development League.
The Sixers received picks No. 58 and No. 60 from the San Antonio Spurs in exchange for the 54th pick.
They acquired the draft right to Tennessee shooting guard Jordan McRae with 58th pick. They traded the 60th picks for cash.
But on this night, most of the focus was on their first selection.
The Sixers wanted to move up two spots to select Embiid's Kansas teammate, Andrew Wiggins. Embiid was projected to go first before he suffered a stress fracture in his right foot last week.
The 7-footer, who had surgery June 20, is expected to be sidelined up to six months.
A stress fracture in Embiid's lower back kept him out of the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments. Embiid initially hurt his back Feb. 8 against West Virginia. Then, after returning to action, he aggravated the injury March 1 at Oklahoma State.
In last year's draft, the Sixers acquired rookie center Nerlens Noel and a first-round pick from the New Orleans Pelicans in exchange for all-star point guard Jrue Holiday. Noel then missed the entire Sixers season while recovering from knee surgery.
There's a chance this injury hinders Embiid's career the way it has for other 7-footers. Like Embiid, Yao Ming suffered a stress fracture to the navicular bone in 2008 and again in 2009. Yao eventually was forced to retire in 2011 because of the injury.
In what was his third year of basketball, Embiid began last season in a reserve role for the Jayhawks. He rapidly improved and eventually shared the national spotlight with fellow freshman phenom Wiggins.
Embiid averaged 11.2 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks at Kansas. At season's end, the native of Cameroon was regarded as college basketball's best big man.
"He has a huge upside," Self said. "He's got an upside that you would think would be like [Akeem] Olajuwon, 7-foot tall, long athlete, [good] feet, skilled, timing, toughness. He's got it all."
The Sixers vigorously pursued a deal with the Cavaliers.
A source said that they offered the Cavaliers their third, 10th, and 32d picks for the top spot and were turned down. There were reports that Cleveland also wanted an additional second-round pick.
That led to the Sixers' selecting Embiid.
"They are going to get a guy with personality, a guy who moves like a guard, that can score in a plethora of ways," Self said. "He is a franchise potential type player. It is very possible, he very easily could have been the No. 1 pick. And if he's healthy, Philadelphia got a steal at 3."