It must have been tough for Emmanuel Mudiay in China.
By now, anyone familiar with the first-round pick of the Denver Nuggets and heir apparent to the role of “face of the franchise” knows the story of Mudiay. A high school phenom and surefire one-and-done candidate, the then 18-year-old point guard spurned the NCAA and a commitment to SMU to head overseas to China to play professionally ahead of his inevitable future as an NBA first-round selection.
While the decision would net Mudiay over a million dollars, he would play just 10 games for the Guangdong Southern Tigers before an ankle injury forced him to miss all of the remaining games, save for the final two.
Give the young point guard credit for sticking with his team all season long, but as an 18-year-old preparing for the NBA, stuck in a foreign country with a language barrier as profound as the one he faced, rehabbing an injury for a year had to have been downright depressing at times.
Nevertheless, Mudiay claims he doesn’t look back and says he never regretted his decision. And that’s good, because he shouldn’t. In fact, recently that decision is looking like one of the best he’s ever made.
Yesterday, allegations surfaced at Louisville of recruiting violations involving strippers and sex for potential recruits, all reported and confirmed to ESPN. Head coach Rick Pitino faces stiff penalties from the NCAA, players have had their names tarnished and the school almost certainly will be getting a vacation from March Madness.
Perhaps closer to Mudiay’s heart, SMU was in the news recently, facing sanctions in light of recruiting violations that will see head coach Larry Brown suspended the first nine games of this season and the Mustangs banned from the NCAA Tournament for the upcoming season.
After once being committed to the school and remaining friends with Coach Brown in the time that’s followed, Mudiay used the school’s misfortune as an opportunity to lash out at the NCAA.
“I wasn’t happy about it,” Mudiay said of the NCAA discipline. “I got to check on coach Brown. But he’s a warrior. He’s going to be okay. There’s nothing really we can do about it. But at the same time, I’m going to support them no matter what.
“But what can we do? That’s the NCAA,” he said. “That’s what they do. I feel like we’re not the only team that’s been through that. Different colleges go through it too. But because it’s SMU, that’s just how it is.”
Indeed, regardless of the legitimacy or severity of the violations in question (and this is not to question any of that), it’s impossible not to recognize these latest incidents as the product of an NCAA system that indirectly encourages schools to “get creative” in offering perks to top-notch, revenue-producing athletes that are expressly forbidden compensation for their services.
Louisville is unique only in that some of the more gritty details of their allegations have come to light. If you believe that similar illegal benefits aren’t happening at powerhouse schools across the country, you’re fooling yourself.
Nothing here is particularly new or profound, yet young, promising basketball players continue to choose a system that they understand going in is fundamentally corrupt and hypocritical in the way it handles top-level student-athletes.
Time will tell if Emmanuel Mudiay is going to become a superstar in the NBA, but his decision to head overseas to play basketball, then stay there for the professional experience despite a devastating injury, is a testimony to the young point guard’s intelligence. While other recruits in his position (not to mention their guardians… allegedly) were jeopardizing their futures and taking a chance on hurting their names, Mudiay made a tough decision to leave his family and friends to play in China because it was best for his future.
Oh, and did I mention he made a million dollars?
It may not have been easy for Mudiay all that time in China, but I’m guessing that right about now there’s a few more former top recruits who wish they’d made the same decision as Mudiay.