Emmanuel Mudiay experienced a homecoming last week—halfway around the world.
The Nuggets guard, who was the 7th overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, never played college ball, instead opting to lace 'em up in China after high school. And Mudiay was back in the country for the first time since 2015, attending the finals of the NBA 5V5, the Association’s first five-on-five basketball tournament for elite players in China. We got a chance to chat with Mudiay from the other side of the world about how it felt to be back in familiar territory, his feelings about KD's move to Golden State, and what he learned from Gregg Popovich while scrimmaging with Team USA in Las Vegas last month.
(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Tell me a little bit about what you’re doing in China right now.
I’m just, you know, showing my face at certain events, doing NBA Cares work. And also at this 5-on-5 tournament they’re having, so me and Tracy [McGrady] have been at that too. He’s the legend and I’m the player right now who’s going through that whole process.
Is this your first time back since playing there?
Yes, it is my first time. Actually when I got off the flight, it was weird because I felt at home a little bit.
How is the basketball culture out in China?
It’s great, man. As far as the fans, I honestly believe they got more fans than the United States because there’s so many people out here and they all love the game. It’s crazy how much they are attracted to the game. And I did a lot for that, but at the same time, it’s something that they love.
My favorite part about it was being able to talk to Coach Pop. Just the little words that he said, it grew on me and you can just tell the powerful impact that he has on his own team.
You’re working with Under Armour out there as well?
I haven’t started that tour yet; I’m starting it after I finish with this NBA tour. But I’m pretty sure we’ve got some great stuff lined up. I think we’re going to Beijing, and then we’re going to Guangzhou, so that’ll be fun.
Is the dream to one day have your own signature sneaker with Under Armour?
Yes, it definitely is. I heard there’s a rumor out there that I actually got a logo, but that’s not the real one. They came out with a logo, but we haven’t confirmed which one I chose yet so the one that’s out right now, is not the logo.
There were things flying around. You obviously had a great rookie campaign. What goals would you like to accomplish next season with the Nuggets?
Just continue being a leader. You have to continue to improve your game, and that’s one thing I have been doing this offseason, trying to work on my game and working on the details. And just give the best version of me that I can give to the team to help us win.
Do you have any expectations for the team?
Just keep progressing. Have a better year than last year. You know we were in a lot of games, I want to say 70-plus games, we were in, 75-plus, and we let them slip away towards the last couple of minutes or in the 4th quarter. I got one year under my belt and a few other guys have a couple years under their belts. We’re so young, so hopefully we can do a better job of finishing games next year.
Obviously KD joined the Warriors this offseason, making them that much better, how do you feel about that?
I’m just worried about the Nuggets right now. He makes the decision that he wanted to make. I mean of course it shocked the whole NBA a little bit, but honestly how I feel about it is that I don’t really care. He did what he had to do, and that’s good for him and best wishes to him, but I just got to focus on my organization.
You were out in Vegas scrimmaging with the U.S. basketball team, what was that like?
It was definitely a great experience. My favorite part about it was being able to talk to Coach Pop. Just the little words that he said, it grew on me and you can just tell the powerful impact that he has on his own team and it’s the players that respect him. So he helped, definitely.