Kelly Kline/Under Armour

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

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.

College Basketball Talk’s Top 25: Xavier, Syracuse, Texas A&M are big winners

AP Photo/Willie J. Allen Jr.
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At this point in the season, I think it is still too early to solely base rankings off of on-the-court results. That’s why you’re going to find North Carolina higher in this poll than likely anywhere else on the internet. Until we see what the Tar Heels look like with Marcus Paige — which, mind you, could happen on Tuesday night when they host Maryland — I’m not sure I’m ready to drop them, even for a team that looks as good as Michigan State or Kansas.

The biggest risers of the week: Xavier and Syracuse, who both won big tournaments over the Thanksgiving holiday. They also both happened to knock off rivals in the process, as the Musketeers blew out Dayton while the Orange knocked off UConn.

1. Kentucky (6-0, LW: No. 1): Kentucky got a real scare over the weekend, as Tyler Ulis hyper-extended his elbow against South Florida. He appears to be just fine.

2. Maryland (6-0, LW: No. 2): The Terps have not looked great early on this season, but they’re going to get a real test on Tuesday when they visit UNC.

3. North Carolina (5-1, LW: No. 3): Here’s to hoping Marcus Paige is healthy when Maryland comes to visit this week.

4. Michigan State (7-0, LW: No. 4): Denzel Valentine has been sensational this season, but the most impressive part of Michigan State’s win over Providence on Sunday was that they did it while Valentine was in foul trouble and struggling to shoot the ball.

5. Kansas (4-1, LW: No. 6): The Jayhawks had a pretty good week. They won Maui, they blew out a good Vanderbilt team, Wayne Selden showed up and Cheick Diallo got eligible. I hope Bill Self bought some lottery tickets.

6. Villanova (6-0, LW: No. 5): I really like the Wildcats this year, I do, but I dropped them a spot for two reasons: 1. I thought Kansas was better entering the season and the Jayhawks looked terrific this week in Maui, before Cheick Diallo played, and 2. Villanova hasn’t beaten anyone of note yet. Next Monday they get Oklahoma. We’ll know then.

7. Iowa State (5-0, LW: No. 7): The Cyclones are 5-0 with wins over three high-major programs, but their best win may be the win over Chattanooga. I think we’ll really get a feel for how good this team next month, when, in a 12-day stretch, they get Iowa, Northern Iowa and Cincinnati on the road.

8. Oklahoma (4-0, LW: No. 8): The Sooners put a whooping on Wisconsin on Sunday afternoon, the kind of performance that made it very clear Oklahoma is a contender this season and Wisconsin is not. Buddy Hield has been terrific, but so has big man Ryan Spangler.

9. Duke (6-1, LW: No. 10): The loss to Kentucky continues to look like the aberration in Duke’s early season schedule, as they rolled over Utah State and Yale this week. The big news: Luke Kennard has finally found his rhythm, as he scored 22 points and went 4-for-5 from the floor on Sunday.

10. Virginia (5-1, LW: No. 11): Virginia has won four straight since their loss at GW, scoring at least 80 points in every game and never giving up more than 66. It’s not the stiffest of competition, but it should go to show you (like I said at the time) that the loss at GW said more about GW than Virginia.

11. Xavier (7-0, LW: No. 21)
12. Purdue (6-0, LW: No. 15)
13. Vanderbilt (5-1, LW: No. 16)
14. Miami (5-1, LW: No. 9)
15. Syracuse (6-0, LW: UR)
16. Texas A&M (6-1, LW: UR)
17. Gonzaga (4-1, LW: No. 17)
18. Oregon (5-0, LW: No. 25)
19. Cincinnati (7-0, LW: No. 20)
20. Baylor (4-1, LW: No. 22)
21. Butler (4-1, LW: No. 23)
22. UConn (4-2, LW: No. 18)
23. Providence (6-1, LW: UR)
24. West Virginia (6-0, LW: UR)
25. SMU (4-0, LW: UR)

DROPPED OUT: No. 12 Cal, No. 13 Arizona, No. 14 Indiana, No. 19 Notre Dame, No. 24 Wichita State

WEEKLY AWARDS: Denzel Valentine’s big week, Kansas makes a statement

Denzel Valentine
(AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)
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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Denzel Valentine, Michigan State

In the title game of the Wooden Legacy, a game that was billed as a matchup between the two best players in college basketball — Valentine and Kris Dunn — Valentine was downright bad …

… by his standards. He finished with “just” 17 points, six assists and five boards. I say “just” because, in the previous two games of the tournament, the Spartan superstar averaged 30.5 points, 10.0 boards and 8.0 assists. He’s been, hands down, the best player in college basketball this season, and that didn’t change this week.


  • Ben Bentil, Providence: Kris Dunn is the guy that is going to get all the national praise, but it was Bentil’s emergence that was critical for the Friars. He averaged 21.7 points and 6.0 boards in three games in the Wooden Legacy, carrying PC when Dunn was battling foul issues.
  • Wayne Selden, Kansas: The highlight of Selden’s week was scoring 25 points on 8-for-11 shooting in the Maui title game win over No. 19 Vanderbilt. For the week, he averaged 19.3 points and shot 12-for-17 from three.
  • Justin Robinson, Monmouth: Robinson averaged 25.7 points in three games for Monmouth at the Advocare Invitational. The Hawks beat No. 17 Notre Dame and USC in the process, only losing to Dayton by three.
  • Justin Jackson, North Carolina: Remember when Justin Jackson was struggling? He averaged 21.5 points, 9.0 boards and 5.0 assists in wins over Northwestern and Kansas State. That came on the heels of a 25-point performance in the loss at Northern Iowa.
  • Henry Ellenson, Marquette: Ellenson notched three straight double-doubles for the Golden Eagles this week, which included 16 points and 11 boards in a win over Ben Simmons and LSU.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Kansas Jayhawks

Kansas headed out to Maui as a team that many weren’t really sure what to make of. They looked good against Michigan State for 30 minutes, then they blew that game as Denzel Valentine went bananas. They had as much depth as anyone in the country, but Brannen Greene was suspended, Cheick Diallo was ineligible and Wayne Selden was the most notable of a handful of talented players that had been somewhere between inconsistent and ineffective this year.

That all changed in Maui — well, other than Greene’s suspension — as Kansas rolled over Chaminade, UCLA and Vanderbilt to bring home the tournament title. Blowing out Chaminade was to be expected. But beating down a talented UCLA team? Dominating a very good Vanderbilt squad? That’s the Kansas we’ve been hoping to see show up for a few years now. The question is whether or not it’s sustainable, and at least on paper, it appears to be. Selden’s shooting percentages will come back to earth, but his raw numbers are less important than his confidence and aggressiveness. Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham are going to continue to take pressure off of each other in the back court. Perry Ellis isn’t going anywhere.

I questioned whether or not Kansas was truly one of the nation’s elite when the season started. I think they answered that question for me.


  • Xavier: The Musketeers not only won the Advocare Invitational in Orlando, they blew out in-state — and former Atlantic 10 — rival Dayton in the finals.
  • Syracuse: The Orange are going to be a factor in the ACC this season. How much? I don’t know. But after winning the Battle 4 Atlantis by knocking off No. 18 UConn and No. 25 Texas A&M, it’s clear they’re going to be involved all season.
  • Northeastern: The Huskies picked up a road win against No. 15 Miami on this buzzer-beating jumper.
  • Arkansas-Little Rock: The Trojans picked up their second huge road win of the year, going into Tulsa and knocking off the Golden Hurricane. They’re now 5-0 on the season, having also won at SDSU.
  • Tournament winners: West Virginia knocked off Richmond and San Diego State to bring home the Las Vegas Invitational title, No. 24 Cincinnati beat Nebraska and George Washington in the Barclays Center Classic and Marquette knocked off LSU and Arizona State to win the Legends Classic.


Tuesday: No. 2 Maryland at No. 9 North Carolina, 9:30 p.m.
Wednesday: Butler at No. 24 Cincinnati, 7:00 p.m.
Wednesday: Louisville at No. 3 Michigan State, 7:15 p.m.
Wednesday: No. 13 Indiana at No. 6 Duke, 9:15 p.m.
Saturday: No. 11 Arizona at No. 10 Gonzaga, 3:15 p.m.