NUGGETS’ MUDIAY RETURNS TO AFRICA FOR AN NBA EVENT
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.”