Yesterday Emmanuel Mudiay, one of the top players in the 2014 basketball recruiting class, decided to forego college basketball at Southern Methodist in favor of starting his professional career, likely in China or Europe. After it was confirmed that Mudiay was not heading to SMU, the biggest question was whether potential eligibility issues caused him to decide to go overseas.
Mudiay, SMU head coach Larry Brown, and Mudiay’s high school coach Ray Forsett have all insisted it was family hardship, providing for his mother, that motivated Mudiay away from college basketball. Reporters though have countered that his eligibility was a concern. So what gives?
For starters, the piece of evidence offered by Mudiay, SMU, and Prime Prep, that Mudiay was accepted to SMU, is virtually meaningless when it comes to his academic eligibility. Mudiay’s biggest problem was always going to be getting through the NCAA Eligibility Center, not SMU’s admissions office. In addition, a previous version of the Yahoo! story (captured here on a message board) included a quote from Larry Brown that Mudiay was “taking a few classes to be on the safe side”.
If a prospect has no eligibility question marks, they do not take summer classes to be “on the safe side”. Prime Prep had multiple prospects initially deemed ineligible by the NCAA Eligibility Center last summer before ultimately being cleared. The school says it has made changes that should prevent those issues from coming up again. But until the school and its prospects go through a certification cycle, no one can be 100% sure.
It also appears that as Mudiay considered his professional options, his family was exploring representation and even shoe companies (again, from an earlier version of the Yahoo! story). That would add amateurism questions on top of possible academic issues.
As in most cases, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle, a little of column A, little of column B. Mudiay’s family situation was likely a significant motivator. But his eligibility was far from straight-forward, even if he, SMU, and Prime Prep were confident it would ultimately work out. Faced with the possibility of not playing at all next year, it is impossible to fault Mudiay for putting family first.