Moments after he released the ball off his hands, Emmanuel Mudiay would hear one or two things.
The Lakers coaching staff sang Mudiay’s praises as he sank countless jumpers. When those shots clanked off the rim, the Lakers’ assistants ranging from Mark Madsen, Paul Pressey, Larry Lewis and Thomas Scott provided positive reinforcement.
Amid all the buzz surrounding Mudiay’s first NBA pre-draft workout on Saturday at the Lakers’ practice facility in El Segundo, the possible No. 2 prospect tried addressing the main concern talent evaluators see in his outside shooting. But even if he shot only 37.4 percent from 3-point range and 57.4 percent from the foul line last year with the Guangdong Southern Tigers of the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA), Mudiay believed that experience alone will accelerate his NBA development.
“The physicality over there was ridiculous,” said Mudiay, who noted he played against former NBA players, such as Michael Beasley and Stephon Marbury. “My maturity level improved in learning how to come into the game as a professional. It was a professional league so I had a good idea of what the system is.”
Mudiay also touted how he played under NBA rules, such as a 24-foot-second shot clock. But his decision to play overseas instead of keeping his commitment at Southern Methodist University went beyond X’s and O’s. He experienced an adversarial upbringing that entailed losing his father at a young age and his mother, Therese, taking her three sons to the United States in 2001 after seeking asylum following political tension in his native Democratic Republic of Congo.
“It was for my mother. She was struggling at the time. So I wanted to help her immediately financially,” Mudiay said. “After that, it played a big factor that I was going to be playing against older men and more physical men. I was going to go to college for seven or eight months. So why not play professionally with grown men and they can teach me a lot and be more comfortable with the professional stuff.”
Mudiay provided plenty of signs that could pay off.
He averaged 17.7 points on 54.5 percent shooting, 6.0 rebounds and 5.1 assists with the Guangdong Southern Tigers of the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA). Mudiay has impressed NBA talent evaluators with his speed, athleticism, playmaking and defense. He has sparked enough buzz that most NBA mock drafts project him as high as a No. 1 pick and and as low as a No. 4 selection. So after his Lakers workout, Mudiay plans to work out for the New York Knicks on Sunday and the Minnesota Timberwolves and Philadelphia 76ers sometime next week. All those teams have the top four selections in the June 25 NBA draft.
“I wasn’t nervous, but anxious. I was ready to get out there to do what I had to do. As the workout kept going, I got comfortable,” Mudiay said. “Just with your competitiveness and show what you can do with my athleticism. I tried to show that the best I could.”
The 19-year-old Mudiay showed more than just his on-court skills. He also showed his mature mindset on several different things.
Mudiay refused to leave China after injuring his right ankle 10 games into the season because he believed he still had an obligation both to rehab and support his teammates. Mudiay downplayed comparisons to Ohio State point guard D’Angelo Russell, who is also projected as a top five pick. Mudiay also downplayed any learning curve adjusting to Kobe Bryant’s demanding expectations or sharing ball handling duties.
“I have a winning attitude. When you like to win, everything else takes care of itself,” Mudiay said. I’m competitive just as much as [Kobe’s] competitive. He wants to win. I want to win.”
It helps Mudiay grew up a Lakers fan. But his favorite Lakers player remains Magic Johnson. Mudiay also considers his two older brothers as his favorite basketball players. So as Mudiay worked out to show off his potential and address any weaknesses, he sounded determine he could offset the Lakers’ weaknesses after finishing last season with the worst record in franchise history.
“They didn’t want to have that season,” said Mudiay, before eying the 10 of the 16 Lakers’ NBA championship trophies in Jeanie Buss’ office that oversees the practice court. “You see the trophies in the window. You see the names. Everybody has a winning attitude. So I know the coaches want to change that. Mitch Kupchak wants to change that immediately. That’s what I’m about.”