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Skipping college makes Emmanuel Mudiay the most important player in 2014 class

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Kelly Kline/Under Armour

The rumors started swirling over the weekend before erupting on Monday morning in a torrent of sourced reports and statements, as Emmanuel Mudiay made it official that he will never play a second of basketball for SMU, the hometown school he signed with over Kentucky last season.

Mudiay’s brother Jean-Michael gave a statement to NBCSports saying that the decision was strictly financial, that the powerful, 6-foot-5 lead guard known as E-man was trying to help support his mother and the rest of his immediate family. Very few people in basketball circles actually believe that, as the general consensus seems to be that Mudiay made this decision to avoid becoming the next Josh Selby or Shabazz Muhammad, an elite recruit whose season is delayed and whose name is tarnished by eligibility issues.

But to be frank, whether Mudiay made this decision on his own or his hand was forced by the NCAA is neither here nor there, because the fact of the matter is that Mudiay has suddenly turned into an important and potentially influential case study.

Due to a couple of rule changes, the European route could end up becoming a popular one in the very near future.

Beginning in 2016, the NCAA will be implementing stricter initial eligibility standards that will make it more difficult for elite prospects with academic issues to be able to play as freshman. That’s not the only potential rule change that could affect whether or not an elite basketball prospect will end up on a campus. New NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is not-so-subtly pushing to implement a 20-year old age limit and a two-and-done rule.

Staring down the barrel of two seasons without a professional paycheck, and with the lack of motivation in the classroom for some of basketball’s most talented youngsters, moving to a different country for two years not only looks like a financially more attractive option, but it will also be the more likely last resort for players than cannot get their grades and test scores in order.

Mudiay is just the third elite basketball prospect to try and make his way to the NBA by skipping college and jumping to the professional ranks overseas. Neither player had a positive experience, cashing in on a quick payday that cost them the chance to play major minutes at the collegiate level while developing a brand that comes with the exposure of playing on ESPN 30 times a year:

  • Brandon Jennings, the No. 1 prospect in the Class of 2008, hated life during his one season at Virtus Roma before becoming the No. 10 pick in the 2009 draft. He signed a three-year, $24-million deal with Detroit, an income supplemented by a shoe deal with Under Armour that he signed prior to playing a game in Italy.
  • Jeremy Tyler, who at one point was the No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2010, signed a contract in Israel after his junior season in high school, quitting that team midway through the season and spending a tsunami-shortened year in Japan before getting picked 39th in the 2011 draft. He’s played 80 NBA games in three years.

It’s easy to be blinded by the amount of fast-cash available, and I’d never criticize a player for capitalizing on his talents when the NCAA’s arcane amateurism rules bar it, but the fact remains that turning pro overseas is, quite simply, not easy.

For starters, these 18 and 19 year olds will be moving to a different country halfway around the world where they will know little about the culture and less about the language that everyone else will be speaking. They will be playing against grown men, professionals with years of experience, some of whom played major minutes in the NBA after starring at the collegiate level. The transition from high school to college basketball is not an easy one to make; going from high school to the professional ranks is markedly more difficult.

And all that is before you consider that these basketball lifers, these men grinding out their living away from their families, would love nothing more than showing up some hotshot young prospect thinking he can waltz and steal some minutes.

All of that is why Mudiay’s success will be monitored by fellow elite prospects as well as the coaches recruiting them.

“We will be watching very closely, as I know quite a few people will be,” a parent of a five-star recruit still in high school told NBCSports.

As of right now, heading overseas is not that viable of an option for kids leaving high school. A successful season from Mudiay could change that line of thinking, but a third elite recruit heading abroad and having a dismal experience would only reinforce the notion that college basketball is the best way to get to the NBA.

Mudiay would have made SMU a top ten team heading into the 2014-2015 season. He could have changed the course of that basketball program if he had landed on campus for a mere seven months.

But with the money involved and the increased difficulty of getting eligible on campus and the potential to be stuck in college for two years, the fact of the matter is that Mudiay will be an infinitely more influential basketball player if he stars wherever he ends up playing his pro ball.

Arizona lands first commitment in 2017 class

Alex Barcello (Jon Lopez/Nike)
(Jon Lopez/Nike)
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Arizona landed their first commitment in the Class of 2017 on Friday night as point guard Alex Barcello pledged to Sean Miller and the Wildcats.

Barcello is a 6-foot-2 point guard from Tempe who plays his high school ball for Corona del Sol. He committed to the Wildcats on an official visit to the Tucson campus.

Barcello is a borderline top 100 prospect who sits at No. 123 in the Rivals top 150. He’s known for his ability to shoot, and he’s more of a combo-guard — i.e. shoot-first — than a point guard at times, but he’s a nice pickup and projects as a solid four-year player for the Wildcats.

Virginia, Indiana, Stanford and Butler were the other four schools on Barcello’s list.

Duke lands first commitment in 2017 class

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Alex O’Connell knew exactly where he wanted to play his college ball, which is why, just two days after picking up an offer from Coach K and the Blue Devils, he became Duke’s first recruit in the Class of 2017.

O’Connell announced the on twitter on Friday afternoon:

O’Connell is a four-star prospect from Georgia that had a terrific summer, going from being a borderline top 75 prospect to a player that caught the interest of Duke, who, along with Kentucky, sit atop the college recruiting hierarchy. He’s an explosively athletic and lanky 6-foot-6 wing with three-point range on his jumper. He needs to add some weight and some strength — he’s listed as a crisp 175 pounds — but he has the tools, and the swagger, to develop into a very effective player in the ACC.

Is he a one-and-done prospect?

Probably not. In fact, since 2010, Duke has landed just two players that were rated lower than O’Connell: Antonio Vrankovic and Jack White. If you know who both of them are, you’re probably either Jon Scheyer or lying.

But what O’Connell is is a kid who put in the work to get better this past year and who has the skill set, the physical tools and work ethic to continue to improve. He may not be on Grayson Allen’s trajectory, but O’Connell has the makings of being an impact player for the Blue Devils for three or four years.

Alex O'Connell (Jon Lopez/Nike)
Alex O’Connell (Jon Lopez/Nike)

Shaka Smart lands contract extension at Texas

Texas head coach Shaka Smart instructs his team in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Baylor on Monday, Feb. 1, 2016, in Waco, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
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Shaka Smart has already landed himself a contract extension at Texas.

The school, according to the Austin American-Statesman, has given Shaka a one-year extension — through the 2022-23 season — and bumped his salary up to a cool $3 million, a raise of $100,000 annually.

Smart’s Longhorns went 20-13 last season and lost on a half court buzzer beater from Northern Iowa’s Paul Jespersen. It will be tough for Smart to match the success that he had last season, specifically because he lost senior point guard Isaiah Taylor to the professional ranks.

That said, the former VCU head man has been reeling in quite a bit of talent from the state of Texas — namely, Andrew Jones and Jarrett Allen — and is not all that far from turning the Longhorns back into a relevant member of the Big 12 title race.

Arizona and Texas headline Lone Star Shootout

PROVIDENCE, RI - MARCH 17:  Head coach Sean Miller of the Arizona Wildcats reacts in the first half against the Wichita State Shockers during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Dunkin' Donuts Center on March 17, 2016 in Providence, Rhode Island.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
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Another marquee, early season event is on the books for the college basketball season as four potential tournament teams will be squaring off at the Toyota Center in Houston on Dec. 17th.

The highlight of the double-header, which has been dubbed the Lone Star Shootout, will probably end up being Arizona vs. Texas A&M. The Wildcats are a Pac-12 contender and a borderline top 10 team as we enter the season, and while the Aggies will have work to do replacing the seniors they lost off of last season’s roster, they’re a borderline top 25 team.

The other matchup will feature a pair of former Southwest Conference rivals facing off in Texas and Arkansas. Texas will be talented but young while Arkansas may actually have the best player on the floor in Moses Kingsley. What will make this matchup interesting is that both Mike Anderson and Shaka Smart are known for being coaches that prefer a full court pressing system.

“We are extremely excited about the opportunity to play in front of our fans at the Toyota Center in Houston,” Texas head coach Shaka Smart said in a statement. “It is one of the most important areas in this state as it relates to our recruiting and fan base.

Five-star 2017 guard Lonnie Walker cuts list to five schools

Men's U18 trials head shots and team photo on 6.15.16
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Five-star shooting guard Lonnie Walker is coming off of a very good summer as he trimmed his list to five schools on Thursday night.

The 6-foot-4 native of Reading, Pennsylvania is still considering Arizona, Kentucky, Miami, Syracuse and Villanova, he announced on Twitter.

Regarded as the No. 26 overall prospect in the Class of 2017, Walker played with Team Final in the Nike EYBL this spring and summer as he averaged 16.6 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. Walker shot 45 percent from the field, 39 percent from three-point range and 72 percent from the free-throw line.

An efficient scorer who is learning to drive with both hands, Walker is very talented and the type of guard who might also be able to handle a bit as well.