Emmanuel Mudiay, an elite recruit who previously passed on Kentucky for Larry Brown and SMU, has decided to change his plans and take a different path to the pros.
And there's a good chance it leads him to the other side of the globe, with Mudiay electing to bypass college and take his game overseas.
If successful, it's possible that he'll have blazed a trail for future prospects looking to cash in before the NBA without jeopardizing their draft stock or development.
Of course, Brandon Jennings, the No. 1 recruit in ESPN's 2008 rankings, skipped college to play pro ball in Italy. Only he got less than 20 minutes a game, made minimal impact and was eventually passed on nine times in the draft.
Depending on how you measure success, maybe Jennings made the right move. But he hasn't exactly set a trend.
Jeremy Tyler has been the only other highly touted prospect to try it. And he quit his Israeli team midway through his first year, spent some time in Japan and then went No. 39 overall in draft.
Mudiay really is a spectacular talent—an athletic, 6'5" point guard with a floor game and scoring arsenal. But you won't find many teenagers abroad that play major roles for their teams.
Remember, whether you're in Italy, China or Serbia, you're not playing against 18- and 19-year-olds. Mudiay will be suiting up against grown professional men—men who've been playing together for years and who probably want nothing more than to bury the new, flashy NBA-bound guard who's using their league as a one-night stand.
Mudiay will also be joining a team that already has chemistry built, as opposed to a college program, where coaches essentially start from scratch each season. Earning a role with an established group while in the early stages of his development won't be so easy abroad. At SMU, he was likely locked into 30 minutes a night as the team's primary playmaker from day one—without having to prove himself or attempt to fit in.
Depending on where Mudiay ends up, playing time and usage rate could be an issue. Jennings averaged just 5.5 points in 27 games in Italy's top division, and 7.6 points in 16 Euroleague games. The top prospects in Division I college basketball will actually have production to show for their potential.
A prospect obviously becomes tougher to evaluate with fewer touches, shots and playmaking opportunities. For some, that could be a good thing, but not for Mudiay, who has the physical tools and game to tear up a league like the American Athletic Conference next season.
Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski reported China as a possible landing spot for Mudiay. But it's tough to imagine him maximizing his stock in the Chinese Basketball Association. Even if he puts up big numbers, chances are they'll be questioned by those skeptical of the competition, while a bad year in China could potentially raise even more questions.
But based on Mudiay's statement, which he released through his older brother to CBSSports.com, it's tough to criticize his decision to get that money and care for his family.
After sitting down with coach [Larry] Brown and my family, we decided that the best way for me to provide for my mom was to forgo college and pursue professional basketball opportunities," the statement read. "I was excited about going to SMU and playing college basketball for coach Brown and his staff and preparing for the NBA, but I was tired of seeing my mom struggle. I am grateful for coach Brown's guidance and support and I am also appreciative of all the support from Prime Prep.
Mudiay could likely make an awfully nice salary playing in China.
However, though none of us are in any position to question Mudiay's motives, there's a strong sense in the basketball community that this move isn't just about seeking immediate financial support.
NBC Sports' Rob Dauster mentioned that "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."
According to CBS Sports' Gary Parrish, "there were growing concerns, real or imagined, that the projected lottery pick [Mudiay] might have a difficult time getting through the NCAA Eligibility Center."
It's unclear where these concerns lie, but had Mudiay received a suspension from the NCAA, who knows how that would have affected his development or stock? Maybe getting out now to avoid a wasted season is the move to make.
Regardless, the stage that he'll be auditioning on overseas wasn't exactly built for the one-and-done prospect. Mudiay will ultimately have to adjust to a new language, lifestyle, basketball role and game.
At this point, it's impossible to say whether Mudiay's decision to go abroad will hurt his stock, but there's no doubt his path to the top of the 2015 draft board will now be a bit more challenging.
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