Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
None of the 15 victories SMU tallied last season were quite as important as the massive recruiting win it scored Saturday night. That’s when Emmanuel Mudiay, a consensus top-five player and arguably the top point guard in the 2014 class, subverted the natural college hoops recruiting food chain by announcing at halftime of the Under Armour Elite 24 game that he would spurn scholarship offers from Baylor, Kansas, Kentucky, Oklahoma State, among others, to attend SMU. The natural reaction? Woah. Why would a player as talented and with as clear a path to the NBA Draft lottery as Mudiay, turn down not only the sport’s most proven preps-to-pros pipeline (Kentucky), but a Big 12 juggernaut (Kansas) that’s won nine-consecutive conference championships and is welcoming the most celebrated high school prospect since Kevin Durant (Andrew Wiggins) to its campus this fall? Mudiay answered that very question on the ESPNU airwaves:
“I prayed about it a lot, and this is what I felt was the best fit. My family is here, and they can see me play, and I will learn from a Hall of Fame coach in Larry Brown. He has done it in college and the pros. He knows what it takes to get there, and I think we can do some special things at SMU.”
The allure of Larry Brown is one thing. Brown is considered one of the greatest coaches in basketball history, the only one (it should be said) to have won championships at both the college and professional levels. Brown is a tremendous coach, but if Mudiay’s decision was exclusively the product of a longing to reap the benefits of Brown’s individual tutelage, the commitment wouldn’t feel as important as it does. There were other factors involved. Mudiay is the biggest recruit SMU has ever landed, but he is not the only highly-ranked player to choose the school. In fact, just this year, the Mustangs are bringing in Keith Frazier, a McDonald’s All-American from Dallas, along with a group of well-regarded transfers, including former Illinois state guard Nic Moore, former junior college big man Yanick Moreira, former Villanova forward Marcus Kennedy, and former Illinois guard Crandall Head. Make no mistake: Mudiay is a better player and a more esteemed prospect than any of those guys. But the point is that he is the best of several; he is not the only one. Mudiay’s commitment is the rousing culmination of a recent uptick in recruiting, and if his decision prompts other top-ranked players to follow suit, that uptick could calcify into an accepted recruiting standard.