After being one of the top high-school basketball players in the country, Emmanuel Mudiay decided to pass on college to play professionally in China. Sure, it wasn’t a popular decision, but he doesn’t regret it. It made him into the player he is today — this year’s No. 7 overall draft pick by the Denver Nuggets. Mudiay knows people doubt him and his abilities, but he also knows they’re dead wrong — and he can’t wait to prove it.
EASTBAY: What’s the biggest challenge you face going into the NBA?
MUDIAY: You’ve got to be able to learn really, really fast. That’s what it is. I’ve just got to ask a lot of questions.
EASTBAY: What do you do on game day, mentally or physically, to prepare for battle?
MUDIAY: That starts in practice. If you practice the way you’re supposed to, you’re ready on game day. That’s something Michael Jordan said, and that’s one thing I really took in. If I do that, the sky’s the limit. I feel like I can do anything on the court.
EASTBAY: Many consider your change of speed and direction your most valuable asset. What would you say is your best asset?
MUDIAY: I’m young, strong, quick, explosive. That’s definitely a big asset when you’re going against grown men. One other thing that I’m really big on is my IQ. That’s what’s gonna separate you from different people. Because everybody in the NBA is fast, strong, athletic, can move, and has a great skill set, but it’s your mind that separates you.
EASTBAY: What was one skill set in recent memory that someone has said you need to work on, or that you believe you need to work on?
MUDIAY: The knock is definitely my shooting. That’s what most people say. But if you know me, it’s just that I’ve been so successful getting to the rim, I don’t need to shoot that much.
EASTBAY: What’s one drill that’s helped you increase your shooting ability?
MUDIAY: It’s just reps. That’s all it is. In high school you gotta go to class, you gotta do this, you know what I’m saying. You’re tired, but you’re a professional. That’s your job. Some days you wake up like ‘man, I gotta work out this morning.’ The hard part is waking up, but when you wake up, get there, have fun. That’s what you do.
EASTBAY: What’s something you’ve done training-wise in the past that’s separated you from other guards coming up?
MUDIAY: I wouldn’t say training. I would say mindset. Great players train together, but you’ll see in the game they’re still different players. It’s your mindset. That’s all it is.
EASTBAY: Did you learn that from other players? How did you get such a strong game IQ?
MUDIAY: I’ve been watching basketball since I was six years old. My favorite player of all time was Magic Johnson. I used to watch a lot of stuff on Magic. He has probably one of the biggest IQs in the history of the game.
EASTBAY: People call you one of the most mature young athletes. What has inspired you to be that mature athlete?
MUDIAY: I grew up without a dad. My dad passed when I was two years old. I had to learn stuff really fast, on the court and off the court. I feel like that was a big transition that helped me be so mature at my age.
EASTBAY: If you had one piece of advice for kids being off the court, what would it be?
MUDIAY: Be around the right people. Surround yourself with people that want to be great. Be around people that keep you on your toes. People will say ‘You’re about to get drafted; you made it.’ I don’t look at it that way. I haven’t made it until I’m in the Hall of Fame.
EASTBAY: For someone who hasn’t seen you play, what’s going to be the most exciting part for them when they watch you play?
MUDIAY: My competitiveness. Competing every play, my explosiveness, my athleticism, my hunger to win. They’ll fall in love with that part. Everybody loves a winner.
Mudiay’s first game will be at 8 pm CT on Oct. 28 against the Houston Rockets. He’ll be lacing up in the Under Armour ClutchFit Drive 2 Low. A PE of his shoe will be dropping on eastbay.com Oct. 31.
Watch Mudiay discuss his journey leading up to his much-anticipated rookie season.