Nuggets pick Mudiay ready to step into lineup
DENVER (AP) — Emmanuel Mudiay says he’s ready to step into the Denver Nuggets’ lineup and help lead the franchise to its first championship.
It’s not the biggest challenge the 19-year-old has faced in his young life, but it’s one that he’s ready to tackle.
“I grew up with pressure my whole life,” he said. “It’s basketball, I’m going to have fun with it and try to make my teammates better. If you win championships everything is going to take care of itself.”
Mudiay, the seventh overall pick in the draft, was in Denver on Friday to begin his NBA career. The Nuggets coveted Mudiay since he was in high school and considered trading up to pick him. But when New York selected Kristaps Porzingis fourth, they decided to stay at No. 7.
Denver thinks it has a player to build around for years to come.
“It gives us a firm foundation piece and it will have an influence on our free agency thinking,” general manager Tim Connelly said.
New Nuggets coach Michael Malone said the 6-foot-5 guard has a lot of upside and will quickly become a fan favoirte.
“When you have a guard with his size, his playmaking ability, his vision, how young he is, the potential he has to improve as a shooter, I think our fans are going to come to love him,” Malone said.
Drafting Mudiay gives Denver two high-profile point guards and adds to speculation that Ty Lawson will be moved during the summer. Lawson has been the subject of trade rumors since the season ended April 12.
Mudiay said he plays best when he has the ball in his hands — a role currently occupied by Lawson — but he will try to learn from his veteran teammate.
“He’s been here for quite a while,” Mudiay said. “I’m going to learn as much as I can from him.”
Mudiay comes to the Nuggets after one season in the Chinese Basketball Association. He says that year of professional basketball got him ready for the competition in the NBA.
“It was the best thing for me, best for my family,” he said. “I got a different outlook how to approach basketball, approach life.”
Mudiay’s mother, Therese Kabeya, and his two older brothers, Stephane and Jean-Micheal, accompanied him to Denver. It’s a pattern of closeness that’s been a part of Mudiay’s life.
He was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire) in 1996. His father, Jean-Paul, died in 1998 and mother moved to Arlington, Texas, in 2001 to create a life away from the violence in the Congo. Emmanuel and his brothers followed a year later, when he was 6.
Soon after moving to Texas, Jean-Micheal saw Emmanuel had a special basketball talent.
“When he was in third grade, I watched the first basketball tournament of his, and as a third grader he looked like a ninth grader,” Jean-Micheal said.
Mudiay developed into one of the top high school prospects in the nation his senior year in 2013-14. He originally committed to attend Southern Methodist University but decided to play professionally.
He averaged 18 points, 6.3 rebounds and 5.9 rebounds for the Guangdong Southern Tigers of the CBA in 2014-15, but a high ankle sprain limited him to 10 regular season games and two playoff games.
He said that experience taught him what it is like to be a professional.
“It prepared me for this stage,” he said. “I felt like it was better for me to go play against older people instead of college.”
Growing up with two older brothers fueled his competitive spirit.
“My competitive spirit starts with them,” Mudiay said. “Losing makes me sick. I can’t stand it. My whole life I’ve been put through pressure, so I love to win. If I’m not winning, I’m not happy.”