NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. -- Emmanuel Mudiay's family has insisted all week that the star basketball prospect's decision to skip college in favor of a professional contract overseas was not connected to eligibility concerns, and I suppose they'll say that forever.
They might actually believe it.
But the truth is that Mudiay was not yet through the NCAA's Eligibility Center, and multiple sources told CBSSports.com that the odds of him being granted initial eligibility were slim, in part because of the past two years he spent at Prime Prep Academy in Texas.
"Emmanuel Mudiay has decided to pursue professional basketball opportunities," SMU coach Larry Brown said in statement released earlier this week. "This is not an academic issue, since he has been admitted to SMU, but rather a hardship issue."
To be clear, nobody disputes that Mudiay has a hardship issue. Or that there's money to be made overseas. Or that he wants to use the money to support his mother. All true, that stuff. But Brown saying there was "not an academic issue, since [Mudiay] has been admitted to SMU" qualifies as a statement without meaning because SMU admitting a student has nothing to do with whether that student might have academic issues in the eyes of the NCAA. I mean, SMU could enroll my 11-year-old tomorrow, if it wanted, because SMU can enroll whomever it wants. But my 11-year-old still wouldn't get through the Eligibility Center without proper credentials. Again, one has nothing to do with the other.
Which brings me back to Prime Prep.
The charter school -- co-founded by NFL Hall of Famer Deion "Prime Time" Sanders, hence the name "Prime Prep" -- is facing closure due to improper financial management and a failure to comply with the state's education code, according to the Texas Education Agency. In other words, it might soon cease to exist. But Prime Prep has existed since 2012 -- although, for purposes of qualifying academically to compete at an NCAA institution, Prime Prep has never been considered a safe route, mostly because it has, according to the NCAA, forever "been under an extended evaluation period to determine if it meets the academic requirements for NCAA cleared status."
Translation: Attend Prime Prep at your own risk.
What defenders of Prime Prep might point out is that Prime Prep alums Jordan Mickey and Karviar Shephard enrolled at LSU and TCU last year and were cleared academically, and that's true. But a source told CBSSports.com that both players needed a waiver to get through the Eligibility Center, and that their waivers were only considered because both had done enough academic work before enrolling at Prime Prep to meet the waiver threshold. The source added that neither Mickey nor Shephard ultimately relied on even a single course from Prime Prep to attain initial eligibility.
Which brings me back to Mudiay.
He didn't spend just one year at Prime Prep like Mickey and Shepard.
He spent two full years at Prime Prep.
And that, almost certainly, was going to be a problem for Mudiay because he didn't have enough academic work completed before enrolling at Prime Prep to meet the Eligibility Center's waiver threshold, meaning he would've only been eligible to compete as a freshmen at SMU if the NCAA accepted some of his coursework from Prime Prep. As stated above, because Prime Prep is "under an extended evaluation period to determine if it meets the academic requirements for NCAA cleared status," all coursework from Prime Prep is subject to further review on what an NCAA official reached by telephone Friday in Indianapolis told me is a "case-by-case basis." And do you want to guess how many times the NCAA has reviewed coursework completed at Prime Prep and allowed it to count toward a prospective student-athlete's transcript?
Zero, according to a source.
So, to get through the Eligibility Center and play Division I basketball this season at SMU, the bottom line is that Emmanuel Mudiay would've needed the NCAA to do something it's literally never done, i.e., count courses from Prime Prep. Could that have happened? Maybe, in theory, I guess. (First time for everything and all that.) But it would've been foolish to rely on that given the Eligibility Center's history with Prime Prep, which is why college coaches here at the Nike EYBL Finals at the Peach Jam are baffled by the fact that those closely connected to Mudiay allowed him to spend two years at Prime Prep.
"It's so crazy," said one college coach who recruited Mudiay before the 6-foot-5 guard committed to SMU last August. "It's just insane that somebody wasn't smart enough to get the kid out of there. Insane. He would've been better off anywhere but there."
CBSSports.com contacted Prime Prep coach Ray Forsett for comment Friday.
It's important to note that this will probably all workout fine for Mudiay. He'll go overseas, kill it and return as a consensus top-three pick in next June's NBA Draft. Or he'll go overseas, struggle like Brandon Jennings once struggled, return and get picked 10th or so in next June's NBA Draft. Mudiay's floor remains really high. We should all be so lucky.
Regardless, the idea that Mudiay picked Europe or China over SMU is silly.
Those weren't his options.
His options, as of this week, were to pursue a contract overseas or keep trying to get through the NCAA's Eligibility Center, and those two years spent at Prime Prep were going to make the latter nearly impossible. Thus, Emmanuel Mudiay made the sensible decision (all things considered) to give up that fight and bypass college ... but only after too many folks made the dumb decision to complicate his academic credentials by letting him spend two years at an academy that's never been in good standing with the NCAA.