SMU became an unlikely power out of the American Athletic Conference in Larry Brown's second season, but the Mustangs' most impressive accomplishment last year might have happened off the court. Brown received a commitment from the top ranked guard in the class of 2014 when Emmanuel Mudiay chose SMU over the likes of Kentucky, Kansas and just about every other blue-blood program in the country.
Unfortunately for SMU, Mudiay will never play for the Mustangs. The Dallas native will skip college and start a professional career overseas, according to Evan Daniels of Scout. Mudiay said in a statement via his brother that his family couldn't wait an extra year for his pro paychecks.
Mudiay 2: "But I was tired of seeing my mom struggle. And after sitting down with coach Brown and my family …"— Luke Winn (@lukewinn) July 14, 2014
Mudiay 3: "we decided that the best way for me to provide for my mom was to forgo college and pursue professional basketball opportunities."— Luke Winn (@lukewinn) July 14, 2014
SI's Luke Winn has the entire statement.
Mudiay was our No. 1 player in SB Nation's first 2015 NBA mock draft. He's that type of talent. The 6'5 point guard has the type of raw strength and athleticism that reminds many of Russell Westbrook. He's an explosive leaper capable of rim shattering dunks, and showed signs of progress as a pure passer over his senior season at Prime Prep Academy in Texas. Even if he's taking a detour around college, Mudiay is still likely to be a high lottery selection in 2015 draft.
For Mudiay, the benefits of playing professionally next season are obvious. He can start getting paid and focus on basketball entirely instead of feigning interest in classes he was likely never going to need. He's already talking to agents and shoe companies about endorsements, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports.
While the paychecks will go a long way for Mudiay, losing a year of seasoning under Brown could be a substantial blow to his development. Not many 18-year-olds are lucky enough to have an entire college program crafted around their talent by a Hall of Fame coach, but that's what Mudiay was headed for at SMU. If there was anyone who could help Mudiay harness his elite athleticism and learn to play the game the right way, it was Brown.
Mudiay talked about his unlikely connection with the 73-year-old Brown at the McDonald's All-American Game. Brown pitched him on a family atmosphere that was appealing to the young guard. His experience helping shape Allen Iverson didn't hurt, either. The 76ers legend even called Mudiay and told him about how Brown aided his game and mindset as a player during the recruiting process.
Photo credit: Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images
The biggest loser in all of this is the SMU program, which would have been a powerhouse with Mudiay steering the ship. Last season, the Mustangs were one of the best stories in college basketball, going 27-10 and just barely missing out on the NCAA Tournament. A run to the title game of the N.I.T. only cemented that SMU's season was no fluke. The program would have been poised for a huge year with the best freshman guard in the country.
It's the second major blow for the program in recent months. The first came when Myles Turner chose Texas over the Mustangs in May. With Mudiay and Turner surrounded by a veteran roster, SMU could have been a top five team and national title contender.
Don't count SMU out just yet, though. Led by 5'9 junior guard Nic Moore, the Mustangs will still be competitive in a weakened AAC that no longer includes Louisville. Markus Kennedy, a 6'9 big man, will provide scoring on the inside while former McDonald's All-American Keith Frazier could make a leap in his sophomore season. There's still plenty of talent here, it just won't be the same without Mudiay.
The massive age difference always made Brown and Mudiay seem like an odd pairing, but sure seemed like it was going to be mutually beneficial for both parties. Mudiay would have received hands on tutoring for a year under one of the best basketball coaches ever while Brown got the type of program-altering recruit that could have changed SMU's fortunes for years to come. It sounded great, but sometimes life gets in the way. This is hardly the last time you'll hear from Emmanuel Mudiay, it's simply a detour no one saw coming.