NEW ORLEANS — Last May, Tina and Cary Manek maneuvered through nearly 1,200 miles of humid air, cracked roads and an abundance of tears as they took their son to his final destination.
After four years at Oklahoma, the only state he had ever known, Brady Manek arrived to Chapel Hill as the perimeter-shooting big man the team had coveted following two-straight seasons that saw far more clanks than swishes.
His early days on campus were met with adjustment, as many students were unfamiliar with who he was, sans for the college basketball Twitterhead, of course. These transitions carried over to the hardwood, as the longtime starter was shifted to a reserve role in some of the team’s early season defeats.
But throughout it all, the final stop solely rested on his mind.
After becoming an integral part of UNC’s improbable title run — which will make its last stop against Kansas on Monday night — the long-haired, ginger-bearded transfer is just 40 minutes away from permanently solidifying his spot in Chapel Hill lore.
“This year has been special and this place is special," Manek said. "I just wanted to enjoy this season, and this experience is anything more than anything me or my family could have ever dreamed of."
While Manek made the original trip to North Carolina with his actual family, he has since forged relationships with those he laces up with each day.
Though it took time, he now fits right in.
“When we first saw him, we didn’t really know,” junior forward Armando Bacot said. “We thought he’d be some country Oklahoma boy but he’s one of the boys, for real.”
When Manek first entered the Tar Heel lineup, his presence marked a shift in the tried-and-tested philosophy of UNC running high-low action with two bigs that dominated on the low block.
As spacing in college basketball became more coveted, head coach Hubert Davis understood the challenges of game-planning for a lengthy sharpshooter, so he decided to add a weapon of his own.
The move immediately paid its dividends, as Manek has now scored in double figures in 18-straight games.
“Instead of me going through the scouting and wondering how do we defend this guy, how do we play ball screens, how do we match up with them — it would be great if we had one of those guys,” Davis said. “Having the four that has the ability to play on the outside opens up our offense, and I don’t think there’s anyone better in the country at being able to do that than Brady.”
With the Tar Heels set to play the Jayhawks, Manek’s four-year run in the Big 12 will give him a sense of familiarity against the team’s third blue-blooded opponent in the last four games. As he’ll tell you, though, the past is hardly relevant on the game’s biggest stage.
Instead of dwelling in the rearview mirror, in the last game of his collegiate career, his narrow-minded focus is only looking forward to doing whatever it takes to help his team cut down the nets.
"I've been doing this for a long time, I'm just excited this is the last game possible to play," Manek said. "But I haven't really thought about it — I've been in college long enough."
Months after the initial journey from home, Manek will get the chance to write his final chapter at his final destination.
And even after a season of new ups and downs and new relationships formed, alongside him will be Tina and Cary — the two that have been with him through it all.
"It was a family effort on me coming to North Carolina," Manek said. "And they've supported it all year."
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