When the selection committee left SMU out of the field of 68 last March, the Mustangs dulled the pain of settling for NIT bid by dreaming of the possibility of a deep NCAA tournament run next season.
Suddenly that goal no longer seems as realistic.
Emmanuel Mudiay, the top-rated point guard prospect in the class of 2014, will play professionally overseas next season rather than enroll at SMU, the school announced Monday. Yahoo Sports was the first to report earlier Monday that Mudiay was considering bypassing college altogether due to eligibility concerns.
In a statement to SI.com, Mudiay insisted his decision had nothing to do with academic or amateurism issues despite little evidence supporting that claim.
"I was excited about going to SMU and playing college basketball for coach [Larry] Brown and his staff and preparing for the NBA, but I was tired of seeing my mom struggle," Mudiay said. "And after sitting down with coach Brown and my family, we decided that the best way for me to provide for my mom was to forgo college and pursue professional basketball opportunities."
A 6-foot-5 point guard in the mold of a Tyreke Evans or Andrew Harrison, Mudiay had a chance to be one of the better perimeter players in the nation next season because of his ability to get to the basket and finish at the rim. His decision to turn down Kentucky, Texas and Baylor in favor of SMU last year sent shockwaves through college basketbal and signaled SMU's emergence as a potential preseason top 15 team next year.
The ceiling for SMU now seems considerably lower despite the return of every key player besides guard Nick Russell and forward Shawn Williams from a 27-win team that finished as the NIT runner-up. Returning starter Nic Moore is a capable point guard, sophomore wing Keith Frazier has the potential to develop into a standout and Marcus Kennedy and Yanick Moreira form a formidable frontcourt duo, but now it's harder to see SMU eclipsing UConn in the American conference or making a deep run in March.
The unlikely winner here is probably Kentucky, which was thought to be the favorite to land Mudiay until he chose SMU instead last year. The Wildcats instead settled for second-tier recruit Tyler Ulis, an option that looks much better now considering Mudiay won't attend college and Ulis will have a year to learn as a backup due to the return of the Harrison twins.
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