Emmanuel Mudiay eschewed college basketball's hierarchy, choosing to play professionally overseas rather than join a league where he would not be paid.
But boy did the five-star recruit's decision pay off.
Mudiay has agreed to a one-year, $1.2 million contract to play with the Guangdong Southern Tigers of the China Basketball Association, according to CBS Sports and a slew of other media outlets.
The contract comes only a week after Mudiay announced plans to opt out of his commitment to Larry Brown's SMU Mustangs. It has broad implications for the future of America's top athletes.
More star recruits will play professionally, skipping college
Mudiay's decision paves the way for other high school studs to ignore college completely.
The current set-up is not helpful for elite recruits. It significantly caps their earning potential, making them attend college classes that add nothing to their resume while forcing them to play a year of unpaid college ball in which they could get injured or potentially lose draft stock.
However, alternatives like playing abroad or for the NBA's D-League have largely been ignored. NCAA basketball still retains top talent because it provides the largest stage for NBA scouts while also providing the greatest level of competition.This opens up a new door of possibilities for players who would appreciate a seven-figure paycheck and international travel.
Why this time is different
When Brandon Jennings became the first major recruit to choose professional ball over college, when he picked Italian club Lottomatica Roma over Arizona in 2008, the move was expected to cause a seismic shift in the college landscape.
Jennings received a $1.65 million guarantee and an Under Armour contract worth $2 million. But he barely cracked the team's lineup, scoring 5.5 points and 2.2 assists in 17 minutes per game. In comparison, he averaged 15.5 points per game in his first season with the Milwaukee Bucks, who made him the 10th-pick in the draft. Jennings' lack of playing time and success may have scared off recruits from considering overseas basketball.
However, Mudiay has even scarier athleticism and he'll likely be a star in China's league, which has been friendly to Americans like Stephon Marbury and Allen Iverson. If he succeeds, expect other star high schoolers to jump ship.
The NCAA will have to adjust
It's a simple matter of supply and demand.
What drives college basketball is its star players. If March Madness didn't show off the abilities of some of the best young players in the world, it would not bear the same kind of clout as it does now.
What if each of the top five recruits in the class of 2015 see Mudiay's contract and decide they want a piece of the pie too? Sure, a college scholarship is worth something, but for one-and-done players who won't get a degree anyway, that worth is miniscule compared to an easy million dollars.
If we saw such a mass exodus of star players, the NCAA wouldn't drag its feet about paying college athletes. International teams would poach players with large contracts and promises of professional success without the distraction of getting an education.
The NCAA would start offering contracts the very next year in order to stop the bleeding. We would suddenly see the end of the outdated notion of amateurism which has dominated college sports for so long. And it would all be because one high schooler decided to test his value on the open market.
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