When Emmanuel Mudiay first met Frank Ntilikina, he immediately spoke to him in French, foreshadowing the bond the two Knicks guards have developed in their short time together as the "French Connection."
Mudiay's family escaped from the war-torn nation of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2001, while Ntilikina was born in Belgium to Rwandan parents. Congo and Rwanda are neighboring nations in Africa, and both faced similar conflicts.
"They're neighboring countries and the reason why people fled from both countries is the same reason," Jean-Micheal Mudiay, Emmanel's older brother, told SNY.tv by phone from Dallas. "Them being neighboring countries, they're both involved in the same kind of war."
Mudiay, 21, was born in Zaire, but escaped the nation now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo when he was 5. In 2017, he returned to the continent to suit up for Team Africa in the 2017 NBA Africa game in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Ntilikina, 19, was born in Belgium and grew up in the French city of Strasbourg. Both were NBA lottery picks, and now both find themselves at the center of a rebuild in New York.
"They've already hit it off," Jean-Micheal said. "They've gotten close over the last couple of weeks so I think it will be great for them. They both kind of need it. I like Frank a lot.
"I think it makes Frank a lot more comfortable [speaking French]. I know when I met him and we spoke to him in French, his eyes lit up so he was kind of excited. I think he'll be a lot more comfortable.'
Since coming over from the Denver Nuggets, Mudiay is averaging 9.7 points and 5.0 assists, including a 14-point, 10-assist outing in a loss to Indiana.
Ntilikina is averaging 5.2 points and 3.2 assists on the season.
Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek has said he plans to play the younger players more down the stretch in the wake of Kristaps Porzingis' season-ending ACL injury. The Knicks are currently 23-36 and remain in position for another lottery pick.
Still, Jean-Micheal says the remaining players will fight down the stretch and he doesn't envision any tanking by the players.
"I don't know too much about tanking," he said. "I'm a winner so I wouldn't tank anything. I'm not too big on that. ... From a business perspective, yeah, you could to try plan for the future but I know players like to win. I was a players myself so I'm always about trying to win the games."
Jean-Micheal echoed comments Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown made to SNY.tv that Emmanuel will benefit from a fresh start in New York.
"Of course, he needed it," Jean-Micheal said. "I think everybody involved needed it. It's good for him and everybody that was involved in the whole situation so I think it's going to be good for his career and for himself as a person."
Mudiay committed to Brown at SMU but opted to play professionally in China instead. Jean-Micheal believes his career might have unfolded differently had he played for Brown, the only man to win an NBA and an NCAA title as a head coach.
"He would've learned the game of basketball for what it is," said Jean-Micheal, who did play for Brown at SMU. "He basically plays off of gift and athleticism so I think he would've learned the actual game."
He added: "I think it set him back just a little bit because once he got to China, he didn't play that whole time. He only played 10 games because he hurt his ankle. I think if he would've played out the season, he would've been better. And if he went to Larry Brown, he would've been even better."
Still, Mudiay wound up as the No. 7 pick in the 2015 draft and is now in position to recharge his career in New York alongside a young nucleus of Porzingis, who could return in late 2018 or early 2019, Ntilikina and whatever draft pick the Knicks add this year.
Depending how low the Knicks plummet in the final 13 games, that could turn out to be Arizona's Deandre Ayton, Duke's Marvin Bagley III, Oklahoma's Trae Young, Texas' Mohamed Bamba or maybe even European star Luka Dončić.
Jean-Micheal believes the Knicks can be a playoff team going forward with that young core.
"Yeah, I think they can do it," he said. "That will be three guys that you can develop not just for next year but going forward for a few years to come."