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.