He was the hot-shot high school recruit last year who had chosen to earn his college stripes with coach Larry Brown’s SMU Mustangs.
But after much soul-searching, Emmanuel Mudiay decided to rebuff the Mustangs and take his talents to China and sign a one-year, $1.2 million contract for the Guandong Southern Tigers.
While Mudiay was away, SMU advanced to the National Invitational Tournament finals. Now, the NCAA has banned the Mustangs from postseason play and suspended Brown for nine games.
Mudiay, now a rookie with the Denver Nuggets who was the seventh overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft, watched the drama all play out from afar.
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"I wasn’t happy about it,’’ Mudiay said after Tuesday morning’s shootaround at American Airlines Center. "I’ve got to check on Coach Brown.
"But he said he’s a warrior, he’s going to be OK. There’s nothing really we can do about it. At the same time, I’ve going to support them no matter what.’’
A 6-5, 200-pound point guard, Mudiay said he’s surprised the NCAA came down so hard on the Mustangs.
"But what can we do?," he asked. "That’s the NCAA, that’s what they do.
"I feel like we’re not the only team that’s been through that. I feel like different colleges go through it, too, but I guess because it’s SMU that’s just how it is."
Brown and others in basketball circles knew Mudiay would have only spent one season at SMU before declaring for the NBA Draft. But Brown believes that one season could have meant an NCAA Final Four berth for the Mustangs.
"I’m confident we would have won the whole thing," Mudiay said. "We’re a good match now, even though he hasn’t physically been my head coach, but I listen to everything he told me and I’m always going to listen to him."
Mudiay also is listening to Nuggets first-year coach Michael Malone, who sees a tremendous upside for his prize pupil.
"You love the fact that here’s a 19-year kid who’s coming into the NBA with great size, strength, physicality, so he’s not going to be overwhelmed from that point,’’ Malone said. "His play-making ability is, still for the game, (he’s a) very good pick-and-roll player.
"I think with Emmanuel, the sky’s the limit. As he continues to learn how hard he needs to work every single day and continue to work on his jump shot, I think he has a chance to be a special player and we’re very fortunate to have him.’’
Mudiay played high school basketball his freshman and sophomore seasons at Grace Prep in Arlington, and his last two seasons at Prime Prep in Dallas. He’ll get to play in front of his family and friends tonight at 7:30 when the Nuggets (0-1) face the Dallas Mavericks (0-0) at AAC.
Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle saw enough of Mudiay this past July in the Las Vegas Summer League that he knows he’s going to create a ton of issues for defenders for many years to come.
"Mudiay is going to be a real problem to deal with because he gets in the lane and he finds people and he can score," Carlisle said. "I saw him in the summer and I thought he was terrific.
"He’s going to go through some adjustments getting into the real games, and people are going to go after him and stuff like that. But he’s a good player, he’s a smart player and he’ll adjust quickly, I have no doubt about that."
In the Nuggets’ 103-96 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers last Friday, Mudiay finished with 14 points, three assists and eight turnovers, and was only five of 18 from the floor. But he was mainly being defended by perennial All-Star Chris Paul.
"I watched the first game,’’ Mavs guard Devin Harris said. "Obviously he’s still learning the point guard position.
"But he definitely sees the floor well, he’s definitely a talent and I think he’ll definitely be a good player.’’
No way was Mudiay in awe of Paul. It was more of a respect factor.
"He’s a great player, but at the same time you want to be at that level,’’ Mudiay said. "He’s somebody that made me want to better myself, so I’ve got respect for him.
"You never stop learning, but I’m glad I just got to learn the game from a different perspective, from a coach’s point of view, from a player’s point of view, so I’ve just got to keep learning. But the more I’m out there, the comfortable I feel.’’