NEW ORLEANS — The transfer portal in college athletics is a monster. It allows athletes to change schools without penalty, to search for a different role, more playing time, more shots, more everything, the end of a rainbow of much eligibility for some.
More and more names are entered each year in all sports.
Thousands upon thousands.
Sometimes, things work out.
Sometimes, they don’t.
Sometimes, you’re Brady Manek.
The North Carolina forward is a byproduct of four years at Oklahoma, a versatile player who could make a huge difference when the Tar Heels meet Kansas for the national basketball championship Monday at the Caesars Superdome.
“When I decided to come here, I knew the history,” Manek said. “I knew that North Carolina plays in big games. I didn’t expect to be on this stage, but the way the year has gone, the last month and a half for us, it’s unbelievable. I just wanted to be part of all this.”
Shooter at heart
The Tar Heels needed him. It’s why Manek was the top priority of first-year North Carolina coach Hubert Davis once the player entered the portal.
Which is all sorts of ironic, given Davis swears he hadn’t heard of Manek beforehand.
But you can’t have enough 6-foot-9-inch stretch fours who can space the floor and make shots the way Manek can. You can’t have enough of those players opponents consider matchup nightmares.
“Nobody ever told me not to shoot,” Manek said. “I probably wouldn’t listen, anyways.”
It’s not as if he didn’t play a vital role at Oklahoma. Manek had career averages of 12 points and nearly six rebounds. He was part of three NCAA Tournament teams. More successful than most college players.
He is also well versed in all things Kansas, having had plenty of matchups against the Jayhawks when playing in the Big 12.
He scored 14 in Saturday’s semifinal victory over Duke, shot 4-for-10 from the field and yet made a critical 3 to give the Tar Heels a 73-71 lead with 1:41 remaining. It was among the most difficult of shots, falling away and contested at the release.
He would score five of his team’s final 11 points in an 81-77 win.
Funny. The Tar Heels missed seven of their first eight shots and, suddenly, things like sight lines and depth perception in such an enormous venue crept into the minds of many.
Davis was asked about such a possibility Friday and answered fairly straightforward: Stop worrying about it. Give a kid a basketball and shoot it. Don’t buy into the big arena theory. Just shoot the ball. If it goes in, it goes in. If you miss, you miss. Just play basketball.
“If you never shot outside on your driveway with the wind blowing and the ball rolls down the street, you haven’t really shot a basketball,” Manek said.
He was right to a point Saturday. The Tar Heels made 42.2 percent of their shots (lots of balls rolling down the street early on) but were 10-for-26 on 3s for 38.5 percent.
Manek was 3-for-6.
His college coach at Oklahoma was now-retired Lon Kruger, also the former UNLV coach who sat in the first row Saturday and watched Manek help his team advance to the ultimate of moments.
Kruger on Sunday spoke of Manek’s shooting skills, his quick release, his improvement as a rebounder, his grit to battle and compete, his decision to depart Norman for Chapel Hill.
“I’m thrilled for him,” Kruger said. “The portal gives a kid something new, a fresh start, something kind of exciting. He has always been a terrific shooter.”
Said Manek: “I don’t regret a single thing.”
As much of a success story as the portal could deliver.
Sometimes, things really work out.
Ed Graney is a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing and can be reached at email@example.com. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.
Who: Kansas (33-6) vs. North Carolina (29-9)
When: 6:20 p.m. Monday
Where: Caesars Superdome, New Orleans
TV: TBS, TNT, truTV
Radio: KWWN (1100 AM, 100.9 FM)
Line: Kansas -4½; total 152½