As Emmanuel Mudiay prepares for the biggest moment in his life, his older brother, Stephane, offers the same advice he always does before Emmanuel's basketball games.
"It's in God's hands," Stephane says as he helps straighten Emmanuel's tie. Deion Sanders, NFL Hall of Famer and founder of the controversial charter school Prime Prep, gives him one last looking-at before sending him to the field house.
It's a dimly lit makeshift building where family, teammates and a few local reporters are waiting for that magic moment-- not exactly what you would expect for the nation's top point guard. There are no ESPN camera crews, and the crowd isn't even large enough to fill the room. But that's the way Emmanuel likes it. Family and faith are what keep him humbled.
Before signing his National Letter of Intent, Emmanuel shows off his pearly whites, thanks God and proudly puts on his SMU snapback hat. A few seconds later, he's officially a Mustang. His other brother, Jean-Michael, who is already at SMU as a part of a package deal that led to the Mustangs landing Emmanuel, embraces his as she sheds tears of happiness.
SMU is not a popular choice for highly touted basketball recruits. Emmanuel, however, wanted to do something different and most importantly stay close to his family. He jokes that he didn't even consider SMU when it extended him a scholarship three years ago. But after a long process, handled mostly by himself and Stephane, Emmanuel realized why SMU was the perfect fit.
"SMU was just the best choice for me. (Staying close to home) played a big role in it," Emmanuel said. "The fact that SMU is 20 minutes from the house and it's in Dallas, my mom can come see me play everyday was the big thing."
From a frightened 5-year-old moving from Congo to the United States to SMU's savior, it's been quite the journey for Emmanuel.
Journey Into The Horizon
When patriach Jean-Paul Mudiay died of heart complications in 1998, it devastated Stephane and his mother, Therese Kabeya. Before he was ready, Stephane had to become of the man of his house and help Kabeya raise middle child Jean-Michael and new baby Emmanuel as the family struggled to keep it together in the African nation of Congo.
It's the reason why Stephane is so protective of his mother and doesn't allow her to interact with the media. It's also the reason why no matter what happens, he will always put his brothers before himself.
Four years after, Jean-Paul's death, Kabeya had enough. With civil unrest building and the country in a state of flux, she moved her family across the world with the hope that her sons would receive a quality education. She picked Dallas, Texas as her destination since her sister, Fariala Ehambe, was already living there with her husband, Lufile Ehambe.
"At first I didn't know what to think. But I was excited. I wanted to see the bright lights and the big city," Stephane said. "My mom told me it was all for us and our education. She still stands by that today. I didn't really know anything about the U.S. other than some of family was there."
Lufile arrived in the United States from Congo three decades ago before millions started fleeing due to bloodshed and war crimes. Despite being raised a Christian, Lufile turned to what his family calls Islamic witchcraft.
He eventually developed a mental illness and was diagnosed with cancer. Lufile was taken to the United States for medical attention, but nothing could be done for him. When he returned to Congo, he met Barbara Casual, a Christian missionary from Oregon.
Casual helped Lufile turn his life around, and he eventually beat cancer and regained health. She told him about the Christ in The Nations Institute in Dallas, and he decided that's where he needed to be.
Lufile along with his fiancé Fariala moved to the United States in search of a better life and the dream of starting their own church.
At first, they lived in a one-bedroom apartment and didn't always have electricity. Lufile got work as a janitor while attending bible college and Fariala stayed home with her new child, Sarah.
Five more children would join the family over the years, and things eventually got better. Lufile became an ordained minister and he and Fariala are now both pastors at Christ International Church in Irving.
When the youngest child, Josh, heard that his aunt and cousins were coming to join them in Dallas, he couldn't believe it. At five yearsold, Josh was exactly the same age as Emmanuel.
"I was so excited when I heard some of my cousins were coming to Dallas. I couldn't wait to meet them," Josh said. "Me and Emmanuel bonded instantly. We went to school together and church and played sports. I'm so proud of everything he's accomplished. Faith has kept our families strong and together."
While Emmanuel flourished on the hardwood, Josh did the same on the gridiron as an outside linebacker. He holds offers from Colorado State, Louisiana Tech and SMU. And since that family bond is so strong, it wouldn't be surprising to see him land at SMU with Emmanuel and continue their miraculous journey together.
Emmanuel and Jean-Michael aren't old enough to remember this, but Stephane recalls it like it was yesterday.
Before he passed away, Jean-Paul would take his sons to the park to shoot some hoops. One day, the 6-foot-10, Jean-Paul threw down a monster dunk that left Stephane in awe. It was then where he fell in love with the sport.
Stephane still has a picture from that day, one of the few things that keep Jean-Paul's memories alive. He glances at it every now and then to remind him of the man that first taught him how to shoot a basketball.
Stephane grew up playing on the AAU circuit and became a star at Mansfield Summit. He led his team to the playoffs and picked up offers from Denver and Stephen F. Austin. Due to a back injury, he went the junior college route and decided to attend Trinity Valley.
After two years, he transferred to Texas Wesleyan, where he helped lead the team to a conference title. Emmanuel and Jean-Michael attended most home games and were determined to follow in their brother's footsteps.
"I always told them to keep working hard and put their faith in God and everything would work out," Stephane said. "I was hard on them because I knew they could both be better than me."
At the time, Jean-Michael was a sophomore at Mansfield Summit and like Stephane, was dominating on the hardwood. But he tore his ACL twice over the next two years and also landed at Trinity Valley. After a couple of years, he decided to transfer to Western Texas in hopes of gaining more exposure and eventually landing at an FBS program.
Meanwhile, Emmanuel was receiving national attention for his play as a 14-year-old at Arlington Grace Prep, where he was averaging 11 points, six assists and six rebounds per game.
"I knew he was a special guard back then," said Prime Prep head coach Ray Forsett, who also coached Emmanuel at Grace Prep and Stephane on the AAU circuit. "He had the talent to be the best brother because some of the things he did you just can't teach."
Emmanuel credits his brothers for that.
"My brothers were older than me so I had to compete harder. They never let me call foul or anything like that," Mudiay said with a chuckle. "They're the ones who taught me how to play. I took a bunch of parts of their games and added them to mine After that, I just kept growing as a player."
The Only Emmanuel Mudiay
There is a scene in the movie Coach Carter where ESPN interviews high school phenom Ty Crane -- based on former Dallas Mavericks and current New York Knicks center Tyson Chandler – and he's asked if he thinks he's the next LeBron James.
Crane responds by saying ‘LeBron James? I'm the only Ty Crane.'
It's always tough to compare Mudiay to other players. Forsett said he wasn't like Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose and Stephane dismissed linking him to former Philadelphia 76ers points guard Allen Iverson. Emmanuel is just Emmanuel.
"I have to admit that he did remind me of Tyreke Evans (Sacramento Kings point guard) when he was younger, but as he grew older, he became more like Emmanuel," Jean-Michael said. "He's not like anybody else I can compare him to. He's his own player."
Stephane first realized Emmanuel could be elite the summer before his freshman year at Grace Prep when Emmanuel dazzled against top tier talent in his class at the Fab Frosh Basketball Camp in Chicago.
And his thoughts were confirmed the next summer when Emmanuel led Team Congo to a third place finish at the Adidas Nations tournament.
"I always knew he was going to be special. But honestly, it was at that camp in Chicago where I first knew he had NBA talent," Stephane said. "I knew I had to keep pushing him so he could reach his potential."
While Mudiay still has some things to learn, he's certainly close to reaching that potential. After another dominant year at Grace Prep, Emmanuel decided to transfer to the newly opened Prime Prep for his junior season. Forsett had been named the head coach, and Emmanuel saw it as an opportunity to keep developing under him and have his mom stop paying $9,000 in fees at Grace Prep.
But then came the controversy. The Texas High School Athletic Association ruled Emmanuel ineligible and denied his appeal, stating that he had transferred purely for athletic purposes.
After a lengthy process that featured an infuriated Sanders and Kabeya taking stands at an array of hearings, Emmanuel eventually regained eligibility and helped lead Prime Prep to the national title game.
"When Emmanuel was eligible, we were all so happy. He brings everything to the court. He's a leader. He can do everything," said teammate Terrance Ferguson. "He's going to make you a better person and player on and off the court. He's just the best point guard I've ever played with."
Nicknamed E-Class by Forsett because he's as smooth as Mercedes-Benz, Emmanuel -- he prefers the nickname E-Man -- still has some unfinished business to attend to before he arrives at SMU next fall. As the senior leader at Prime Prep, he wants to take his team back to the national championship, only this time he wants to win it all.
"I just have to keep working on my game and keep getting stronger so I can be ready for the college level," Emmanuel said. "My goals right now are just to help this team win a championship."
And his game will only get better under Hall of Famer and current SMU head coach Larry Brown.
"I think he can learn a lot from Coach Brown," Stephane said "He can learn how to be a pro because Coach Brown has coached so many great players. I think he's going to help him tremendously."
Flight Of E-Man
All Kabeya wanted for her children when she moved to the United States were for them to receive a quality education. She never realized her youngest would be a potential top-10 NBA draft pick.
Kabeya saw Moses Ehambe, Josh's older brother, reach the NBA Development League as a part of the Iowa Energy. This is different though. Emmanuel is a bonafide superstar in the making.
But to her and Stephane, Emmanuel will always be Emmanuel no matter what kind of riches he brings the family. For now, Kabeya is trudging on as a nurse and is proud as she can be of not only Emmanuel but also Stephane and Jean-Michael for their accomplishments off the court.
Stephane graduated from Texas Wesleyan this year with a degree in communications while Jean-Michael is enrolled in SMU's sport management program and has a full basketball scholarship. When Emmanuel announced his verbal commitment to SMU in the summer, he let the world know that Jean-Michael was joining him.
Jean-Michael has seen a few minutes here and there for the Mustangs this season and is content with being a role player and getting a degree from a prestigious university in the process. To Jean-Michael, it's not about living in Emmanuel's shadow but rather letting him have the spotlight.
"It means everything to play with him. When he came to me and made that suggestion, I was so happy because I love playing with my little brother," Jean-Michael said. "We always pushed him to be better than us, and I'm glad he is. I want him to succeed so much.
"SMU is getting a great point guard and someone who is going to come in and do the right things. He leads by example, and he's vocal too. He's always going to do the right thing and keep God first."
Emmanuel is also going to take advantage of SMU's academics. He plans on majoring sport management just like Jean-Michael and might even do something in French—a language he's fluent in. But it will be interesting to see just how long Emmanuel stays on the Hilltop.
If it weren't for the NBA's 'one-and-done' rule, Mudiay would have been a first round NBA draft pick this summer. Brown, however, is just happy he'll be on the team next fall and so is freshman shooting guard Keith Frazier.
"Emmanuel is a good friend of mine. I'm excited he's coming here," Frazier said. ‘He's a great player, and he's coming to a great school. He's going to help us do something special here."
Brown is known for coaching some of the best point guards to ever pick up a basketball and is a big reason Mudiay was attracted to SMU in the first place. In just two years at SMU, Brown has already changed the way SMU is perceived by top recruits around the nation.
Last year, he reeled in a McDonald's All-American in Frazier. But Emmanuel is Brown's biggest land yet and is reshaping the culture at SMU without even stepping foot inside Moody Coliseum.
"He's as good a player as any in the country and an even better kid," Brown said. "He's got a great family, and he's from Dallas so that's got to be the type of kids we've got to be lucky enough to continue to sign."
Emmanuel said Frazier was the one who legitimized SMU in his eyes and now his signing is doing the same for other premier recruits. Five-star center Myles Turner put SMU back on his short list shortly after Emmanuel's decision and four-star power forward Jonah Bolden listed SMU in his top five.
Ferguson, a five-star shooting guard in the Class of 2016, might be the next superstar from Prime Prep to become a Mustang.
"Seeing Emmanuel commit to SMU definitely brought SMU up my list," Ferguson said. "I would say they are in my top two now. I would love to play with Emmanuel again, and SMU is a great program with Larry Brown."
And students are beginning to take notice too. Emmanuel was in attendance for SMU's opener against TCU at American Airlines Center when something somewhat magical happened.
A school notorious for having apathetic fans saw its students give Emmanuel a standing ovation and even start a loud ‘Mu-Di-Ay' chant that echoed throughout the arena. There is simply a different aura around SMU's fan base. Maybe it's because the arrival of the messiah is near.
"I'm ready to help SMU win national titles. Coach Brown said that's what he wanted to do, and I'm going to help him do that," Emmanuel said. "I want to play for him and do something great at home. When I went to the game, I wasn't expecting those chants."
"It just shows you that home loves you. There is no place like home."
Emmanuel Mudiay: The Untold Story
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