Since the nation's top point guard prospect revealed Monday that he was backing out of his letter of intent to go to SMU and heading overseas to play professionally, there has been a fair amount of discussion over whether Emmanuel Mudiay could become a trend setter.
The only way that has any chance of happening is if the McDonald's All-American fares far better than those who have previously attempted such a move.
The first player to bypass college to play professionally in Europe was Brandon Jennings, the top-rated point guard in the class of 2008. Rather than continue to struggle to achieve a qualifying SAT score to enroll at Arizona and risk having to sit out the entire the 2008-09 season, the Southern California native opted to sign a multimillion-dollar contract with Virtus Roma of the Italian League.
Jennings has since gone on to become a quality NBA point guard but made a modest impact in Italy as an overmatched 19-year-old, averaging 5.5 points, 1.6 rebounds and 2.2 assists in 17 minutes per game. He also admitted to reporters that he seldom got paid on time, struggled with the transition to comporting himself like a professional and might not have lasted the entire season were it not for his family supporting him by cooking him meals and doing his laundry.
"If I didn’t have my mom and my brother there, I would have been back in (December)," Jennings told ESPN.com last year. “Without them I wouldn’t have been able to make it.”
The only other player to follow in Jennings' footsteps endured even more obstacles than he did. Six-foot-11 center Jeremy Tyler bypassed his senior year at San Diego High School and a scholarship offer from Louisville to play overseas in 2009, a highly controversial decision made because his family believed the lack of competition in high school wasn't properly preparing him for the NBA.
Tyler averaged only 2.1 points and 1.9 rebounds for his Israeli team before quitting and returning home after just five weeks because of troubles adjusting to the team and life abroad. He fared only marginally better in Japan the following season and has since bounced between the NBA and the D-League the past three years.
Mudiay's decision to head to Europe more resembles Jennings' instead of Tyler's. Despite his insistence that he is turning pro merely to help support his mother, there is plenty of evidence that concerns about his NCAA eligibility also contributed to his decision
Whether Mudiay will be able to thrive during — or at least survive — his year overseas will depend on his maturity, the level of competition in his new league and the support staff with which he surrounds himself. The athletic 6-foot-5 point guard has a game reminiscent of Tyreke Evans, but the transition to the rigors of professional basketball is very different from jumping to the college game, where the oldest players are in their early 20s and coaches do everything in their power to coddle their stars.
If Mudiay signs a lucrative deal and plays well enough in Europe to solidify himself as a top pick next June, there's no doubt other young prospects in his shoes could take notice — especially if the NBA implements a rule change preventing players from entering the draft until two years out of high school.
The fate of Jennings and Tyler, however, suggests that's a long shot.
More likely Mudiay will experience some growing pains overseas. And more likely the high school-to-Europe path to the NBA will remain exactly what it is now — a plan B for potential one-and-done prospects wary of potential eligibility issues that could preclude them from playing in college as freshmen.
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