After struggling to space the floor consistently last year, finding more versatility at the post position was a top priority for North Carolina first-year head coach Hubert Davis during the offseason.
With junior Armando Bacot occupying space and attention down low, the Tar Heels needed a complement to their star center — and they sure found it this season in the form of graduate forward Brady Manek.
Once again, Manek came up big for North Carolina on Monday night, finding Bacot with a flashy dump-off assist leading to a dunk with 1:33 remaining, giving his team the late momentum it needed to secure a 70-63 victory over Louisville.
Bacot and Manek have looked good together all season, and on Monday, the pair was once again just what the Tar Heels needed.
“Me and Brady, we have good chemistry,” Bacot said. “We always find each other and I knew once (Malik) Williams went over there to try to block his shot, he would hit me for that.”
As two of North Carolina’s top scorers, Bacot and Manek have had to carry the weight for a team that has struggled to maintain depth down low. The two veterans were forced to step up and fill even bigger roles after losing sophomore forward Dawson Garcia for the year.
And the pair has not disappointed.
While the absence of depth down low may leave them gasping for air at times, it has also helped build their chemistry.
At Oklahoma, Manek had a special connection with former teammate and fellow big Kristian Doolittle — and he believes what he has found this year with Bacot rivals that connection.
“I've described it several times,” Manek said. “I had a connection back at Oklahoma with a buddy I grew up with, Kristian Doolittle. You can run a play at either position and you’ve got the same idea and you know where each other are. Like today, we just found each other."
When looking at tape over the offseason, Davis knew what he was looking for in a pairing for Bacot, and Manek has done just what the first-year head coach sought him ought for and then some.
“He’s obviously got a skill that’s elite,” Davis said. “He can shoot the basketball with great size and so immediately when I saw the film, that's what I saw, but I also saw his ability to pass the basketball and just make fundamental plays consistently on both ends of the floor.”
Without Manek, it’s tough to imagine where the Tar Heels would be at this point in the season.
Through the ups and downs, the Harrah, Okla. native has been there to provide his North Carolina teammates with not only consistent play, but veteran leadership that was needed on a young roster.
Although he’s only been at UNC for one year, you would never know it when Manek and the Tar Heels are clicking, and Davis couldn’t be more thankful for what he found — not just a pairing for his star big, but a Tar Heel for life.
“I just really enjoy coaching him,” Davis said. “I really enjoy being around him, and it feels like Brady has been here for four years."
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.