In every sport there are a certain set of players that possess the physical traits that can cause a scout to salivate at the sight of them: the “five-tool” prospect in baseball, the strong-armed, yet mobile quarterback, the big point guard. Ever since Magic Johnson wooed fans in the 1980s, GMs and coaches alike have fantasized about the idea of having a player with the vision and ballhandling of a lead guard trapped in the body of a big man. Think I’m exaggerating? Re-watch the UCLA-Florida Sweet 16 game; how many times did they bring up UCLA’s Kyle Anderson‘s size and length?
This type of player doesn’t come around every day.
Enter Emmanuel Mudiay, a 6-5 point guard with handle, vision and quickness. A player who can beat you attacking the rim with an array of dribble moves, or can thread the needle and deliver the perfect pass to the roll man. Did I mention his stellar midrange game yet? The No. 5 prospect, according to ESPN’s 2014 Top 100, Mudiay can do just about anything on the court.
His story is about as incredible as his talent: Mudiay was born in Zaire, the capitol of the Democratic of Congo. While kids in the United States were entertained with Nintendo 64 and PlayStation, Mudiay was living in the midst of the Second Congo War. When his mother left to attain asylum for her family, Mudiay and his two brothers stayed behind with their grandparents.
Before partaking in the festivities of the McDonald’s All-American Game, Mudiay spoke about his incredible background and his life on and off the basketball court.
*** *** ***
Dime: You’re pretty big for a point guard (6-5, 200 pounds). Do you watch any of the big guards in the NBA and try and study their games?
Emmanuel Mudiay: Sometimes I do, but you I’m just blessed to have this opportunity to be a big guard, I think definitely it helps experiences, really.
Dime: Who do you look up to as a role model? Do you try and take anything from anybody else’s game and add it to yours?
EM: I pick pieces of everybody’s game: different players not even position wise–it can be a big, a guard, small forward, and my brothers; they helped me a lot with that too.
Dime: I saw that your one brother (Jean-Micheal) actually plays for SMU, and you give him a lot of credit for your style play. What’s it like knowing you’re able to play with him again?
EM: It’s a dream come true, no doubt it’s a blessing. I prayed about the decisions that I made and it led me to SMU, and he was there too, so it should be fun. Growing up I used to model my game after him a little bit and my oldest brother (Stephane), so it’s going be fun to play with somebody that I’m really close with.
Dime: Can you give us details as to what led you to pick SMU over schools like Kentucky or Baylor?
EM: When I think about it I felt like it was the best spot. Larry Brown, it’s only a couple minutes from the house and my mom can come to every home game. The relationship I built with the coaching staff also, like I said Larry Brown, he has connections with everybody who knows the game and he can teach me a lot.
Dime: Yeah, he definitely has the connections. He’s actually the only coach to win championships in both college and the pros. What does that mean to you? Was it important to play for an once-in-a-lifetime coach like that?
EM: No doubt, in my opinion he’s still the best coach there is out there with college and the NBA. I just think he’s a great coach; he’s a Hall of Fame guy. But, the most important thing is he’s a great person and he treats me like I was his own child already, and I mean I haven’t even came. It’s a blessing to have somebody like that.
Dime: I read a little bit about your backstory, how has being in those situations affected you as a basketball player?
EM: It keeps me grounded and humble. I know that I need to keep working a lot harder to just give my mom what she wants after all that she’s been through with us and my brothers, they’ve been through a lot. So, just keep going and I make it for them and first off thank God, too.
Dime: What was it like coming to America? (Emmanuel came over when he was five years old.) Was it an easy transition for you?
EM: Somewhat, yeah. I was the youngest and I picked up on English real, real fast, so it was pretty easy–it was definitely different–but it was pretty easy.
Dime: You told the Dallas Morning News that you watched BET and Friends growing up. Are you still watching those shows now?
EM: (Laughs) No, it’s still the same. You know what, but as of right now it’s basketball, March Madness, SportsCenter. But I still watch the same shows.
Dime: So you’ve watched the tournament. Obviously SMU somehow didn’t make the tournament this year. (SMU became the first team since 2004 to be ranked and miss the tournament) Going into next year, it looks like they’ll only graduate two players so there should be some pretty big expectations. What are your expectations?
EM: Definitely make a deep run in the tournament, if not win the whole thing. I have a lot confidence with the team coming back. That’s one of the reasons I picked SMU because I’m going to play with a group that’s experienced, and I’m not going to be with a lot of other freshmen that really don’t have college experience. So, that’s another reason why I picked them, because those guys know how to act at the collegiate level, they’re going to teach me a lot of stuff. Then, Nic Moore and Markus Kennedy, we’ve already been talking a lot about how it is, how it is going to be next year–how we want it to be next year. It’s going to be great.
Dime: In high school, your prep school (Mudiay attended the Prime Prep Academy), you played with a lot of guys who are playing in college now (Baylor’s Isaiah Austin, St. John’s Jamal Branch and Oklahoma’s Je’lon Hornbeak). What was it like going up against premier talent at such a young age?
EM: Jamal Branch taught me a lot; also Je’lon. They took me under their wing. Jamal was a senior and Je’lon was a junior, and they definitely taught me a lot because like they used to kill me, for like the first two months out there in practice. But once I got used to it, it became a lot easier and I picked up a lot of stuff, and before you know it at the end of my freshman year, I was competing with them. So they had to add some more stuff to their games because I was an All-Star. They definitely taught me a lot; we’re all still like brothers. We’re all like family, ’till this day I keep in contact.
Dime: That’s great. So off the court, what do you do other then watch basketball?
EM: I’m a big family guy, so I am always with my family. My cousins Joshua, Daniel, and we’re a big Christian family so we like to interact with church things and stuff like that.
Dime: Are you a big sneaker guy?
EM: Not that much, I’m a big 2K guy though.
Dime: Really? Who are you playing with a lot right now in 2K?
EM: It really doesn’t matter, whatever team… Orlando.
Dime: What are your individual goals for yourself going forward?
EM: Just keep getting better everyday and take it day-by-day. I’m not going to think too much further but to take each day at a time and the best is going to come. And keep God first in them.
What do you expect from Mudiay at SMU?
Follow Ian on Twitter at @Ian_Flick.
Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.
Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.