Kentucky Wildcats Basketball: Could Mudiay’s decision hunt the ‘Cats in the future?


Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Not that long ago, Emmanuel Mudiay, the fifth-ranked player in the 2014 class, considered playing for Kentucky. The 6-foot-5 guard was receiving comparisons to Russell Westbrook when he somewhat shockingly chose SMU over Kentucky and Kansas, among other schools. Mudiay, a Dallas native, was set to be Larry Brown’s prized recruit.

Roughly a year later, Mudiay is now headed for China to play professionally. Reports say Mudiay was concerned about amateurism issues and that “the NCAA is on to him” for the reasoning behind skipping out on SMU. On Monday, he signed a one-year, $1.2 million with a Chinese team.

You could consider this a recruiting victory for Kentucky — one of the rare instances where missing out on a future top-5 draft pick is a positive thing. John Calipari, whether intentional or not, will get three to four years of Tyler Ulis instead of not having Mudiay at all. However, is Mudiay’s decision to pass on the college game and play overseas the start of something bigger? Will more NBA prospects follow in his footsteps?

These same questions were asked when Brandon Jennings took this route in 2008. Jennings, the wrongfully No. 1 rated player in that class, spent a year in Italy’s top league before being drafted tenth-overall by the Milwaukee Bucks. The difference between him and Mudiay, though, is the separation in talent. Despite being ranked as the best player in his class, it would’ve been difficult to find an NBA executive to tout Jennings as the top pick in the draft. That isn’t the same for Mudiay, as he’s considered one of the top prospects for next year’s draft.

Factor in Mudiay’s size compared to the 6-foot Jennings and the comparisons between the two become more widespread. You could argue Mudiay is the best American high school prospect to skip out on college and play overseas in the one-and-done era.

After Mudiay made his decision and agreed to a deal on Tuesday, the same critical questions began to rise, mostly from the folks who get paid to cover the college game. Will he develop properly overseas? Will he mature enough in a year after receiving his first big payday? But this time around, more and more pointed to the potential benefits of taking this route.

How does making seven figures playing in a league without much defense and avoiding entry-level college courses in the process sound to these prospects? Dante Exum, who the Utah Jazz just made the fifth-overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, essentially took a year off when he could’ve spent the second half of the college season playing for some program (Kentucky was interested, by the way). The “mystery” that surrounded him might’ve helped his draft stock according to some, instead of being picked a part on a daily basis by college scribes, NBA scouts, among others.

So what if Mudiay succeeds in China? What if he comes back to the States next June with nothing but great things to say right before he’s selected in the top five of the NBA Draft? Will that change the perception of foregoing the college process for the elite prospects and will more choose to take this route?

If so, the game then changes for a program like Kentucky, who obviously relies on these same prospects each year to restock the roster. Also, the NBA could eventually recognize the shift change and make their D-League a more attractive place for players to spend a year in before entering the draft while getting paid in the process.

Kentucky might’ve dodged a bullet with Emmanuel Mudiay, but the ripple effects of it could be felt in the future.