Originally published in SLAM 173

by Ryan Jones / portraits Trevor Paulhus

You generally don’t want to assume too much about a player from one night of basketball. Rules have exceptions, of course, and if there’s one player in the 2014 high school class who might deserve an exception on this one, it’s Emmanuel Mudiay. That one night came back in August, and it spoke volumes.

Along with most of the rest of the nation’s best players, Mudiay was in Brooklyn at the end of the summer for the annual Elite 24 game. At halftime, he joined the ESPNU crew handling the live broadcast to announce his unlikely college choice: SMU. Then he went out and dominated the rest of the game, finishing with 22 points and earning game co-MVP honors. If any ballplayer had a better night last summer—let alone on national TV—it’s hard to imagine.

Most nights on the basketball court are good ones for Mudiay, a consensus top-five player in the Class of 2014 and, if you count him as a combo guard, probably the best at his position in the nation. Unlike his standout performance in Brooklyn—no surprise there—his college pick remains somewhat shocking, if only because of SMU’s relatively lightweight rep on the hoop scene. Thanks in large part to Mudiay’s much-anticipated announcement, that rep is changing before our eyes.

“It’s definitely a big load off my shoulders,” Mudiay says of wrapping up his recruitment. “I don’t have to try to impress coaches anymore. I can just get ready for Coach Brown.”

That would be Larry Brown, of course, the Hall of Famer who made a surprise choice of his own when he took over the SMU program last year. Signing Mudiay is pretty strong proof that Brown’s hiring was a good one for the Mustangs, who probably wouldn’t have had a prayer with the local star under any other circumstance. “A lot of people pick schools for the wrong reasons,” Mudiay says. “I picked my school because of the relationship I have with Coach Brown and his staff. He’s a Hall of Famer. I want to play in the NBA one day, and he’s already coached at the highest level.”

Local ties certainly helped seal the decision for Mudiay, who plays at Prime Prep Academy in Dallas, TX, and lives about 20 minutes from the SMU campus. Not coincidentally, his older brother, Jean-Michael, recently transferred to SMU from Western Texas JC, a savvy bit of additional recruiting by Brown that helped secure Emmanuel’s commitment. Says Mudiay, “I want my mom to be at every game, and with my brother there, and the fact that this is my home city, I’m going to have a lot of people cheering for me.”

They should have plenty to cheer for, too. At 6-5 and a shade under 200 pounds, Mudiay is a prototype lead guard, able to dictate tempo and alternate between creating for teammates and getting his own whenever he needs to. “I play at my own pace,” he says. “I don’t let anyone speed me up or slow me down.” A lot of that poise and confidence comes from playing with Jean-Mike and their oldest brother, Stephane, who balled at Texas Wesleyan. “People back home tell me I play just like my brothers,” he says.

Family has gotten Mudiay this far. It seems appropriate that staying close to home figures to take him as far as he wants to go.