SMU sent shockwaves through the college basketball world in August when they secured a commitment from Emmanuel Mudiay.
The 6-5 point guard, a consensus top-five prospect in the Class of 2014, selected the Mustangs over Kentucky in a decision that ensured Larry Brown's tenure at SMU will be filled with plenty of buzz, intrigue, and excitement.
But before Mudiay gets to campus next summer, Brown and the Mustangs have a season to play.
And any hopes of having success during the upcoming year in the American Athletic Conference will likely depend on the production of 6-11 big man Yanick Moreira, who pledged to SMU after being rated as one of the top junior college prospects in the country.
"He's going to be a factor for us," Brown said of the 6-11 Moreira, who averaged 18.2 points, 9.8 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks per game last season at South Plains College. "I love him because he comes to practice every day and he wants to get better. He loves to play. I've got to figure out the best way to use him. He'll immediately be able to protect the rim and rebound. He's added some weight since he came to us too."
Moreira's on-court attributes will speak for themselves, but his experience level and winning pedigree should be a credit to the team as well. Moreira's team in junior college went 36-0 last season and won the NJCAA National Tournament as the big man earned MVP honors.
For a team like SMU that is filled with expectations but short on players that have tangible winning experience, Moreira's presence should pay immediate dividends.
The Mustangs return five starters from last year's team that went 15-17 while playing in Conference USA and also add three impact transfers in Nic Moore (Illinois State), Markus Kennedy (Villanova), and Crandall Head (Illinois). Brown is also excited about the team's freshman class, highlighted by shooting guard Keith Frazier who was a McDonald's All-American.
But by changing leagues and playing against higher level competition on a nightly basis, Brown knows Moreira's seasoning could go a long way for his team, especially early in the season.
"It's huge," Brown said of Moreira's experience. "He's used to winning. The thing that excites me about Yanick is he wants to be better. He handles the ball better than I remember. He can score the ball with either hand. I've just got to get him to add a go-to move in the post and he's going to be really hard to stop."
Brown is excited about the idea of pairing Moreira alongside Kennedy, a highly touted recruit out of high school that only spent one season at Villanova.
"Markus looks great," Brown said of the 6-9 Kennedy. "He's down 40 pounds from where he was at Villanova. I think he and Yanick are going to blend well together. They're both team guys and I think those two will give us a real strong base to work with. We've got some good options up front. Shawn Williams played a lot last year and does everything right. He's a glue guy for us. And Cannen Cunningham has great ability. He just needs to learn to be consistent and bring it every day."
While SMU's frontcourt looks to be well defined, the backcourt is still a work in progress. Point guard play has always been a major point of emphasis wherever Brown has coached during his Hall of Fame career and the coach admitted that right now that area of the Mustangs is a bit of a concern.
"It's not great right now," Brown said of the Mustangs' point guard play. "Nic Moore, who transferred from Illinois State shoots the heck out of the ball but he's not a true point guard yet, at least not to me. But he definitely has the ability to do that. Ryan Manuel and Nick Russell, two guys we had last year have gotten better and they've been with me for a year so they know what I want and what to expect. The thing that I've noticed about the American is there's going to be unbelievable point guard play. There's a lot of really good guards throughout the conference."
"I'm really happy with my freshman class," Brown said. "They're gym rats. If we can duplicate that moving forward with our next few recruiting classes, we'll have a great program for a long time."
The upgrades SMU has made in terms of perception and overall talent level is remarkable considering Brown has only been at his current post for roughly 18 months. The Mustangs are now a national program with a plethora of capable players already in-house and a potential star in Mudiay on the way.
Now the question is, can Moreira help bridge the gap for a team that's changing leagues and stepping up weight classes from Conference USA to the AAC?
That's what everyone is anxious to find out.
"I'm a little concerned that the physicality of our conference will be difficult for him but he'll be able to handle that," Brown said in reference to Moreira. "He's a real key for our team. We've got better players here but everybody thinks they should play. I learned a long time ago that you can't play 13 players and be successful. Having chemistry is going to be a big challenge, especially early on."