For the first time since 2011, SMU has an NBA player.
Yanick Moreira, the Angolan center who patrolled the paint for the Mustangs as recently as two years ago, has just signed a deal with the Toronto Raptors. This marks a massive moment for the Mustangs in terms of the perception of their basketball program.
While Moreira has just an outside shot at making the roster with Toronto, he clearly made enough of an impact on Raptors’ GM Masai Ujiri to earn the call. However, it’s Moreira’s path that can truly change the way that SMU markets to international recruits.
After injuries prevented Moreira from participating in the Brooklyn Nets training camp last season, he headed overseas for a season split between France and Spain. Because of Moreira’s Angolan passport, his journey across the pond was significantly easier. Most leagues in Europe and Asia (including the leagues in France and Spain) have limits on the number of Americans they are allowed to have on any given roster. Thus, an international player like Moreira is considerably more valuable than his American counterparts, as he doesn’t take up one of those valuable spots.
There’s no doubt that his season in Europe drew the attention of NBA scouts, which should make him SMU’s model for the indirect path to the NBA.
The unfortunate reality of professional basketball which very few high school recruits want to hear is that it’s damn near impossible to make the NBA. There are over 4,500 Division 1 basketball players, and just 60 picks in the NBA Draft. Of those 60 picks, 46 were used on college players, with 14 selections going to players in overseas basketball academies.
However, the draft is not the only route to the NBA, and Moreira is proving that.
Every year, teams sign veterans who have spent their careers playing in Europe to NBA contracts, in hopes of securing players whose contracts represent market inefficiencies. Moreira is just the next player to take advantage of this situation, but SMU could use his model for years to come.
Consider the case of SMU’s two Australian freshmen, Tom Wilson and Harry Froling. With their Australian citizenship, they can take advantage of the same things Moreira did. Wilson and Froling both know that if they perform well with the Mustangs, the program has reached a point where international teams will have the chance to watch them play. Depending on their performance over their SMU careers, both players will probably have the option of playing in the NBL in their own country or in Europe, even if the NBA is not an option immediately after college. Thus, they will be able to chase their NBA dreams as they develop their skills in professional leagues across the world.
This is the paradigm set up by Moreira and the model for how the Mustangs should pitch international recruits. Numerous schools across the NCAA have become hot beds for international players of a particular nationality, but SMU could truly become a haven for all overseas players looking to chase a pro dream.
Regardless of whether or not Moreira makes the Raptors’ roster, his presence in their training camp is a massive step for the SMU basketball program. Just a few years ago, Mustang fans could never have imagined developing professional players, let alone for the NBA . But now they have put a player in two of the best basketball leagues in the world, and he is on the cusp of realizing an NBA dream. That type of growth and development is exactly what is so attractive to international recruits about playing college basketball in the United States, and SMU must seize this opportunity to capitalize on their position in global basketball.