By R.L. Bynum
Most players Brady Manek’s age move on from college basketball after four years. If this wasn’t the age of NCAA pandemic rules, he would have left with only frustrating March memories.
The 23-year-old sharpshooter never got past the first weekend of the NCAA tournament during his four seasons at Oklahoma and he saw the opportunity at North Carolina as a terrific chance to change that.
“I like being here just because I have that feeling that we can do better than that,” Manek said. “And I want to do better than that.”
Manek, 6–9, 230 pounds, led the Sooners to three NCAA berths (there was no tournament in 2020), becoming the only player in program history to collect 1,000 points, 500 rebounds, 200 3-pointers and 100 blocks.
“Realistically, I’m not sure I should still be in college,” said Manek, who is a graduate student enrolled in the Kenan-Flagler Business School after graduating from Oklahoma in seven semesters with a degree in business administration/management last December.
“But the COVID gave me another year,” he said. “And now I get to play one more year and I get to have a fun year. New experience, new environment, new set of people, new coaching staff, new teammates. I just want it to be fun, to be how I envisioned it being. Fans and get back to everything normal and I just want it to be one of those years that I can look back on and absolutely love.”
Despite 28 points from Trey Young, the Sooners lost 83–78 in overtime in the first round to Rhode Island his freshman season as a No. 10 seed in 2018. The Sooners lost in the second round of his sophomore and senior seasons.
Oklahoma beat Ole Miss as a No. 9 seed his sophomore year before losing to No. 1 seed and eventual national champion Virginia 63–51. As a No. 8 seed last season, after beating Missouri, the Sooners lost to No. 1 seed and eventual national runner-up Gonzaga 87–71.
“We really sparked early several of those years and I had some great teammates, great teams I was on,” Manek said. “But we always got caught with the eight-nine games. It’s a really hard game to play. You’re playing one of the top-four teams in the country [in the second round].”
Could Manek experience playing on a team with a higher seed and after the first weekend with his new Tar Heels teammates, most who lost in the first round last season? First-year head coach Hubert Davis convinced him that this would likely be part of his Carolina experience.
“When I talked to Coach Davis about the guys coming back and how he saw the team, it really stuck out to me of what we can do this year and what he wants to do this year,” Manek said. “It was a big adjustment, going from Oklahoma to here but I’m looking forward to it.”
He could have stayed at Oklahoma another year but weighed his options when his head coach there, Lon Kruger, retired in March. Davis’ pitch to Manek won him over.
“I don’t know if it was really anything except his personality,” Manek said. “You know, he’s a first-time coach, he’s got a good program here and got a lot of players that wanted to stay to play for him. So, it was the first big sign for me.
“We liked what he was saying,” Manek said. “We liked this position I’d be in and we liked everything about what he was saying. And he hasn’t done anything that steers me away from that. He’s the same person I talked to three months ago when I first met him. And he’s the same person in person.”
Going from attending college in his native Oklahoma near a big city to a small college town has been quite a different experience. In addition, he’s a long way from home for the first time, and he doesn’t know many people outside of the basketball program.
“Everybody’s really welcoming. Everybody is really nice. Everybody wants to get to know me, wants to know what my life has been like back home. Everybody’s really curious,” Manek said. “This is really, really awesome to be a part of. A lot of people care about how we do, the season that we’re going to have. So, it’s a good feeling to be a part of something like that.”
Manek’s shooting prowess as the tallest player in Big 12 history with 200 3-pointers makes him fit perfectly into Davis’ approach, along with Virginia transfer Justin McKoy and Marquette transfer Dawson Garcia.
“He wants to have guys who are threats shooting in the big spots. I mean, we’re guys who can be threats,” Manek says of himself, McKoy and Garcia. “They can kind of space the floor if we need to.”
Much like McKoy, Manek will be happy that he won’t have to guard the other team’s big man most of the time, gladly leaving that duty to junior Armando Bacot. He’s worked hard in the weight room, though, to make him a better low-post defender when he’s called on to do that.
Manek is versatile for his height, able to create his shot, drive by people, pass to the open man and generally keep the ball moving on offense.
The comparison he hears most is to Larry Bird, the legendary former Indiana State and Boston Celtics star, not just from the resemblance but from his shooting touch. The first started to be noticed when he switched from the buzzcut he had for years and started growing his hair out during his sophomore season at Oklahoma.
“It started taking off and this is how it all got started,” Manek said. “It’s publicity, attention.”
He can grow the hair over a short time. But developing that shooting touch took years of work, with the help of his parents, Cary and Tina. Both were good shooters in college at Oklahoma Christian. His older brother, Kellen, who played at Southeastern Oklahoma State, can also shoot well.
“We’ve always been big on shooting,” Manek said. “When I was younger, I always had to play up with my brother — two years up, whatever it was — and I was never the guy that he had bringing the ball down the floor. So, I was the younger brother who stood in the corner and they said, ‘when you catch it, just shoot it.’ That’s kind of how I developed shooting. I kind of wish they forced me to bring the ball up when I was younger; maybe I’d have a little more skill there. But shooting was a big thing for my parents.”
Manek shot 45.4% from the floor for his career at Oklahoma and 37.3% from 3-point range. Kerwin Walton (58) is the only UNC player with more 3-pointers last season than Manek (48). That total for Manek was down from 71 3-pointers his junior season.
With more outside shooting threats this season, Manek may finally get to experience playing during the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.
Photo credits: 2021 NCAA photo (top), University of Oklahoma photo by Ty Russell