NUGGETS’ MU­DIAY RE­TURNS TO AFRICA FOR AN NBA EVENT

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Ben­jamin Arthur

It has been 16 years since Nuggets guard Em­manuel Mu­diay was home.

Born in the war-torn na­tion of Zaire, now known as the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of the Congo, Mu­diay fled for refuge with fam­ily mem­bers at age 5. But he has re­turned to the African con­ti­nent for NBA out­reach and per­sonal dis­cov­ery.

Mu­diay will suit up for Team Africa in the 2017 NBA Africa game, the league’s sec­ond-ever game on the con­ti­nent, on Satur­day in Jo­han­nes­burg, South Africa — part of an ef­fort by the league to grow the game glob­ally. Ear­lier this week Mu­diay was back in the Congo for the first time with his mother and broth­ers.

“It’s been some­thing I al­ways wanted to do, come back here (to the con­ti­nent),” Mu­diay said on a con­fer­ence call. “It just makes you ap­pre­ci­ate where you come from.”

His two weeks in the Congo called for re­con­nect­ing with his roots. Mu­diay re­united with fam­ily and saw his grand­fa­ther for the first time in years. He wit­nessed the life his wid­owed mother, Therese, lived to pro­vide him and his two older broth­ers a bet­ter life in the United States. (She found asy­lum in the Dal­las area in 2001. Em­manuel and his broth­ers joined her just over a year later).

Mu­diay made the trip with Or­lando Magic for­ward Bis-

mack Biy­ombo, a fel­low na­tive of Congo. Biy­ombo hosted camps for lo­cal kids through his foun­da­tion.

“It’s def­i­nitely tougher in Africa than it is in the states, so just to see that was emo­tional and I just kept ask­ing my­self, ‘Where would I have been if I stayed and didn’t get the op­por­tu­nity in Amer­ica?’ ” Mu­diay said.

That op­por­tu­nity gave Mu­diay the chance to shine on the prep basketball scene in Texas, led to a sea­son of pro basketball in China and be­ing the No. 7 se­lec­tion in the 2015 NBA Draft. But go­ing into his third sea­son in the league, he has a lot prove.

Af­ter a sea­son-and-a-half as a Nuggets starter, Mu­diay fell out of the ro­ta­tion fol­low­ing a re­turn from a back in­jury in Fe­bru­ary. His sea­son av­er­ages in points (11.0), as­sists (3.9), steals (0.7) and re­bounds (3.2) were all less than his rookie year.

Nuggets coach Mike Malone, who is also in Jo­han­nes­burg for the NBA Africa game, told Mu­diay that this off­sea­son is the big­gest sum­mer of life. He chal­lenged him to stay in Den­ver more than the pre­vi­ous year to work with Nuggets coaches. He has re­sponded, Malone said, and been “ter­rific.”

Malone be­lieves com­ing back to the Congo has been a pos­i­tive ex­pe­ri­ence for Mu­diay, too. The guard showed Malone a video of him hik­ing to see sil­ver­back go­ril­las in the jun­gle of his na­tive coun­try.

“I think any­time you’re able to come back to your roots and re­con­nect with where you’re from and the peo­ple that helped shape you when you were young­sters, There’s gotta be some­thing taken from that ex­pe­ri­ence,” Malone said. “Does that trans­late on the court? I’m not sure, but I could just look at Em­manuel and see how much he is en­joy­ing him­self.”

Train­ing camp looms less than two months away. The ups and downs of his first two NBA sea­sons have taught him to be him­self.

That’s what Mu­diay wants to get back to in 2017-18.

“The way I’m ap­proach­ing this sea­son is not think­ing too much and just be­ing my­self re­gard­less of what hap­pens, not try­ing to please no­body,” Mu­diay said. “(Re­turn­ing to the Congo will) help me to an ex­tent, but at the same time, I’m al­ways just go­ing to be me.”

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