There’s a powerfully built 6-foot-5, 196-pound point guard, blessed with elite quickness, explosive leaping abilities, and breathless skill beyond his years at arguably the most important position on the court, and no one was able to watch him play college basketball.
Normally it’s the type of resume reserved for a foreign player. Instead, that prospect has spent most of his life in the United States.
But NBA fans will finally get their first prolonged look at prospective floor general Emmanuel Mudiay when the league’s draft takes place Thursday, June 25 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.
There’s two narratives for why the Congolese-born Mudiay hasn’t played in the U.S. for the better part of a year. The 19-year-old called the Dallas-Fort Worth area home for two years while he played at Prime Prep, the academy co-founded by former NFL star Deion Sanders.
Mudiay originally committed to play for legendary coach Larry Brown at Southern Methodist last season, but ultimately decided to take his talents overseas to play for the Guangdong Tigers of the Chinese Basketball Association. In a statement released to the media in July of last year, Mudiay said he wanted to play professionally so he could support his mother financially.
However, Prime Prep closed its doors on Jan. 30 amid allegations that it mishandled its finances and failed to comply with Texas’ state education codes. Thus according to CBS Sports, sources stated Mudiay faced “slim” odds of being granted eligibility by the NCAA in order to play for the Mustangs last season.
Mudiay instead signed with the Tigers for a reported $1.2 million for one season, and though he played only 12 games coming off the bench after suffering a minor ankle injury during the 10th game, his stats are nonetheless impressive against China’s best competition. He averaged 18 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 5.9 assists while shooting 47.8 percent overall from the floor.
Though the college game is much slower than pro leagues, it's likely Mudiay would’ve put up similar numbers in what figured to be his only season under Brown at SMU. And Brown, who wasn’t disgruntled by Mudiay’s decision to head to China, heaped praise on the prospect last year.
"He's the most special point guard I've ever seen at that age," Brown said to ESPN. "He plays the right way, and God has given him incredible gifts. We all know [the NBA is] a point guard's league."
From almost anyone else a statement like that would be seen as unnecessary hyperbole, but Brown’s experience with point guards is telling of Mudiay's skills. A point guard with the North Carolina Tar Heels and the Baltimore Bullets before his long coaching career, Brown knows the position better than almost anyone. He helped improve the play of Allen Iverson, Chauncey Billups and Mark Jackson, just to name a few.
Mudiay was named to the Parade and USA Today All-American first teams in his senior season, and racked up 15 points and six assists over 21 minutes in the esteemed McDonald’s All-American game against the nation’s best high school players to further the point that he was the best guard prospect in the country a year ago.
Now he’s considered all but a lock to go no lower than the No. 6 selection in this year’s draft. It’s widely believed the Minnesota Timberwolves, owners of the top overall pick, are deciding whether to go with Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns or Duke’s Jahlil Okafor, both considered the top big-men prospects in the country.
After those two, its Mudiay and Ohio State point guard D’Angelo Russell at the top of most draft projections. Russell does have the advantage of playing a full college season with the Buckeyes, which meant more views from scouts, and does have much better long-range touch with a 41.1 percent success rate from three.
There doesn’t seem to be a consensus among experts about whose better, but its clear Mudiay and Russell are in the top five. CBS ranks Mudiay as the No. 3 overall prospect, while ESPN and DraftExpress.com both peg him at No. 4. Most scouts believe that if Mudiay’s jump shot was better, a glaring weak spot, he would be in contention for the No. 1 pick.
But according to The Sporting News, Mudiay won’t fall out of the top six, with a league source telling the site: “There’s no way he’d get past the Kings.”
After the Timberwolves, the Los Angeles Lakers are up next at No. 2, followed by the 76ers, and New York Knicks. Sacramento own the No. 6 pick, and would likely be elated if Mudiay or Russell falls that far and ends the franchise’s prolonged search for a point guard to pair with All-Star power forward DeMarcus Cousins.
According to reports Mudiay has worked out with Minnesota and Los Angeles already, and he met with the Knicks on Monday with Philadelphia next on the agenda. Like any prospect, teams may view his weaknesses as correctable, which could mean he gets drafted higher than expected.
The Knicks, Lakers, and 76ers are all in need of a game-changing guard, especially, as Brown mentioned, in a league that’s become so guard-focused. Mudiay seems to fit the mold of Derrick Rose, John Wall, and Kyrie Irving -- all gifted players who went No. 1 between 2008 and 2011.
Mudiay may have showed his hand when speaking with reporters after working out in L.A. and seeing the Lakers' abundance of championship hardware.
“It made me want to get some,” Mudiay said to the Orange County Register. “I wasn’t in awe (coming into the training facility) because it is a great franchise. I would love to be a part of something like this. I just want to win and get as many championships as I can. That’s the main thing.”
His aspirations right where NBA general managers want them, Mudiay could be a household name in the near future.
Checkout some of his highlights between 2012 and 2013, as well as his work in China below.