Coming into the 2021-2022 basketball season, graduate forward Brady Manek finds himself far from home — 1,173.7 miles, to be exact.
Both of Manek's parents, as well as his older brother, played college basketball in Oklahoma. This year, he’ll break that pattern upon making his debut as a Tar Heel.
He will be the first in his family to play for a team outside of Oklahoma.
“It’s very different — I’ve never been this far away from home, especially for this long,” Manek said. “I’m starting to get to know the people here even more than I already do. I’m loving it, sometimes I don’t even feel like I’m away from home — it’s a good feeling.”
‘I’m just here to have fun’
Manek started last season at Oklahoma by scoring 29 points against UTSA in December. But 19 days later, he only managed to score two points against Texas Tech. This started a six-game stretch in which he’d only get above double digits in one game against Baylor, where he scored 10 points.
Just when things looked like they might change, Manek contracted COVID-19, forcing him to miss games against Kansas and TCU. Eventually, the stretch concluded with a one-point performance against Texas in which he went 0-5 in eight minutes of play.
He turned it around briefly with consecutive double-digit games, scoring 12 and 11 points against Alabama and Texas Tech, respectively. But he still couldn’t find his groove and averaged 6.8 points in the next five games.
Eventually, he found his stroke on March 1, when he scored 20 against Oklahoma State — his highest point total since the UTSA game. He continued this scoring run in what would be his final five games of the season, only scoring below 10 points in the first round of the Big 12 Tournament against Iowa State and the second round of the NCAA Tournament against Gonzaga.
“Last few years, I was chasing scoring, I was chasing 3-pointers made,” Manek said.
Now that he’s got an extra year of eligibility and a new team, Manek isn’t looking at the stats. Instead, in his last year of college basketball, he’s focused on soaking everything in.
“I’m just here to enjoy, I’m just here to have fun,” Manek said. “I just want to experience what it’s like to be a part of Carolina basketball. I really just want to take it all in at once, that’s probably the biggest thing for me, not even staying consistent, just having fun.”
‘A new experience’
Deciding to go to a school you’ve never visited is a risky decision — even more so when the school is in a region you don't really know about. But after receiving a phone call from head coach Hubert Davis, Manek decided to roll the dice and give North Carolina a shot. Manek officially committed to UNC in April, and a month later, he visited the campus for the first time.
So why would Manek commit to a school that he's never toured, in a region that he essentially had no knowledge of?
“I had one year left and I wanted to prove myself one more time, and I felt like I could do it at this school and on this stage,” Manek said. “I was ready to move on and I was ready for a new experience, and I think I found the right one.”
Standing at 6 feet, 9 inches and weighing 230 pounds, Manek fits the prototypical big the Tar Heels have had featured in the past. Unlike those bigs of the past, though, Manek brings versatility into this UNC program.
Manek features a deep-range ability as well as the ability to cover every position on the floor. He showed this ability off in the Nov. 5 exhibition game against Elizabeth City State, scoring 16 points, including two 3-pointers, as well as blocking three shots.
“I love his versatility,” Davis said. “On the offensive end, he has the ability to shoot the basketball and I really believe this, I think he’s the best shooting big in the country. It’s not even close — he’s also an unbelievable passer, his versatility on the offensive end is a huge piece in us being the best offensive team that we can be.
The versatility Manek possesses took his teammates by surprise once they started seeing him play.
“Coming in, I figured he was just a spot-up shooter,” junior center Armando Bacot said. “As we started playing during the season, just in pick-up and practice, I started to see he could take it off the bounce, he could score in the post, but also he could really get after it on defense.”
‘A fun year’
Manek goes from having a home arena that holds 11,528 people to the third-largest arena in college basketball, the Dean E. Smith Center, which holds 21,750 people.
Having been on the wrong side of fanbases for most of his career, Manek is looking forward to having immense fan support at every home game, especially since the Smith Center will be able to be at full capacity once again this year.
“I think it’s going to be cool to be on the good side of one, especially one this big,” Manek said. “It’s been a year and a half, two years since COVID, so I think people are going to be getting excited. I think it’s going to be a fun year.”
Part of having that home fan support is getting nicknames. For Manek, the long hair and mustache have made it easy for people to draw comparisons between him and NBA legend Larry Bird.
But to him, nicknames and the comparison to the long-time Celtic aren’t that big of a deal.
“I started growing my hair out and that’s when media and everybody started saying stuff,” Manek said. “I really had no intention of it going that way, but I stuck with it because it brought attention, and it brought attention to me.”
Going into the season, Manek is just trying to enjoy the experience and the crowd, but he has bigger aspirations than just enjoying his time in Chapel Hill.
“My goal for the team is we gotta make it to that second weekend, we gotta make it to the Sweet 16,” Manek said. “After that, we can start talking about bigger goals. But it’s hard to make it to that third game of the tournament.”
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