A season ago, Southern Methodist was good. Not great, but pretty good. It was, first and foremost, the product of Larry Brown's coaching -- a cohesive collective on the defensive end, yet another display of the trademark defensive groups Brown had produced almost nonstop at the NBA level for two decades. The Mustangs were always in the right position. They never made anything easy.
Despite the 17th-best per-possession defense in the country, the Mustangs missed out on the NCAA tournament. The reason was fairly straightforward: Their offense didn't travel.
In seven losses to fellow American teams -- one of which was a first-round tournament loss to Houston -- Brown's team managed better than a point per trip just once (at South Florida, when it scored 71 points in 70 trips). Only one of those losses was at home. On their home floor, the Mustangs could occasionally be thrilling. When they traveled, even to the neutral conference tourney confines of Memphis, they were devoid of creativity and edge.
Emmanuel Mudiay was going to be that guy. Not anymore.
On Monday, Yahoo! Sports reported that Mudiay was considering moving overseas to begin a professional career right away. Later Monday, ESPN's Jeff Goodman confirmed that Mudiay's decision was already made. A source also told Goodman that the decision was bolstered by a concern about his amateur status.
"The NCAA is on him," the source told Goodman. "And he's worried."
In a statement to SI.com, Mudiay said the decision was about beginning his professional career, and ending his mother's struggles, as early as possible.
"I was excited about going to SMU and playing college basketball for Coach Brown and his staff and preparing for the NBA, but I was tired of seeing my mom struggle," Mudiay said via a statement his brother, Stephane, provided to SI.com. "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. I am grateful for Prime Prep coach [Ray] Forsett for developing me into the player and man that I am and I am also grateful for Coach Brown's guidance and his support. This has nothing to do with my eligibility in any way."
It's a strange turn of events, given the relatively late date. And because of Mudiay's decision, he no longer needs to prove anything to the NCAA, which in turn means we may never know the extent of the NCAA's inquiries into his status.
What we do know is this:
1. It's an incredibly difficult thing for a teenager to try to make it abroad as a professional basketball player, but it is hardly impossible. Brandon Jennings is the obvious example, but as new World Cup fans may have learned these past few weeks, much of the world's elite soccer talent make the same trips at much earlier ages. Likewise, few question Mudiay's talent. Brown, in fact, called him "the most special point guard I've ever seen at that age." It's surprising more players this good don't choose this path, whatever the actual impetus.
2. This is a huge blow for SMU.
In our Way Too Early 2014-15 Top 25, we -- and many other outlets -- listed the Mustangs as the No. 11 team in the country. That had to do with the talent Brown had returning this season, which includes pretty much every key player from a squad that played deep into the NIT. But the real reason was the opportunity to combine that talent with Mudiay, a preternaturally gifted, hugely physical scoring point guard. The Mustangs had worked tirelessly the past few seasons to shore up their hometown star; he was the recruit who would make good on the expensive hiring of Brown three years ago.
Now? SMU will still be good. It should be better. But a top-10 team? Top 15?
There will be plenty of questions, and plenty of think pieces, about this talented young person deciding to forgo college for the Wild West of international basketball. We'll get to all of that eventually, I guess. Where pure college basketball is concerned, it's a massive blow to SMU. It needed offense. It needed a star. Brown needed a college edition of Allen Iverson. Mudiay might have been that. Now we'll never know.