Sports

UNC’s Brady Manek hoping for shot with Hornets after summer


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North Carolina’s Brady Manek reacts after a 3-point basket to give the Tar Heels a 28-22 lead over Kansas during the first half of the NCAA Championship game on Monday, April 4, 2022, at Caesars Superdome in New Orleans, La. Manek is playing for the Hornets in the Las Vegas Summer League.

rwillett@newsobserver.com

Brady Manek dribbled up the court, motoring as quickly as he could down the middle of the lane and tossed the ball skyward, looking to make the most unusual of connections.

See, Manek is a product of North Carolina and even though he saw a former Duke rival out of the corner of his eye, he didn’t allow any manufactured hate to negatively influence his decision. Manek gave it up to Mark Williams for a two-handed flush, creating the rarest of basketball moments and something the two can joke about for years to come after hooking up for a nifty alley-oop in the Charlotte Hornets’ 91-80 win over Cleveland in Las Vegas Summer League action on Wednesday.

Turns out a Blue Devil and Tar Heel can actually get along after all.

“I could have gone up with a contested bad shot or dished it off to Mark,” Manek said. “ I appreciate that he laid it in. He didn’t dunk it. If you’re 7-1, you’ve got to dunk that. But it’s OK. It was a really good play. I like having a guy down low like him, just being able to block shots, get rebounds and get plays like that. Even if it was a bad pass, he’s going to be there to get it.”

Manek is trying to carve out his own path in part because, unlike Williams, he didn’t get drafted. He had his best outing of summer league against the Cavaliers, pumping in 12 points.

The full offensive arsenal was on display, too. Manek not only knocked down a pair of 3-pointers with his well-refined jump shot, he had a nifty up-and-under move on a drive to the basket and also displayed he can mix it up on the offensive glass with a tip-in.

When he was scouring offers for summer league and possible roster fits, he chose the Hornets because he thought it felt right. The North Carolina connections were a huge plus, too. It’s given him the opportunity to prove he has a variable skill set.

“I just wanted to get a chance just to be able to play, get to show what I’m about,” Manek said. “I’ve shown what I’m about. I’m not going to become a point guard overnight. I’m still Brady. I’m still going to be able to shoot it.

“But there’s other things once you get around me that you can’t see on TV. Things that you watch on film of me playing defense. Me guarding the ball. Me making the right play or extra passes. There’s other things to my game that you can’t just see on TV.”

Manek won’t get much of an argument from Jordan Surenkamp. The Hornets’ summer league coach likes what he’s seen from the 6-foot-9, 230-pound forward.

“I think with Brady one of the things that sticks out with him is his IQ, his ability to be able to read the floor offensively,” Surenkamp said. “He’s got natural instincts even passing the ball a little bit. I think all of those things are really valuable. He’s also able to playmake.

“He’s in the right spot defensively every time. He competes defensively.He rebounds well. So, he gives you other things that allow you to keep him on the floor. Obviously, with his IQ and decision making he’s someone late in games you feel like you can trust as well.”

Maken flourished in his lone season at Carolina, stepping into a larger role when Dawson Garcia left the team. An uptick in minutes helped Manek average 16.9 points with the Tar Heels in their final 21 games. He also shot the ball well, nailing 50.3% of his attempts and 43.1% beyond the arc.

Carolina’s run to the national championship game put Manek in the spotlight with the rest of his teammates and increased his confidence.

“Being on that stage, I got to play throughout the season and throughout the tournament against some of the higher picks in the draft,” Manek said. “So, for me, getting to play inside and show what I can hold my own, show that on those big stages and big environments. For me, the NBA is a dream. That’s what everybody wants to do.

“But I’ve continued to prove to everybody I’ve continued to be a great player, great teammate and just keep working hard. My IQ is only going to get better. My playmaking, decision-making, it’s all going to get better as time goes. But I’m just really excited to see what happens. Hopefully, something exciting happens.”

The Hornets have a two-way contract spot open and Manek could be a candidate depending on how things shake out with the roster and other potential offers he may receive after summer league. If Manek can find a way to stick around, he can keep practicing those lob passes to his former enemy turned friend.

Even if they can agree to disagree on that small argument.

“Obviously, Duke’s always going to be better,” Williams said. “Now that we are teammates, he supports me, I support him — in the Hornets’ setting.”

The Duke-UNC rivalry squabbles never get old between the two. Already.

“So, we haven’t joked about it much because it’s funny — everybody else jokes about it,” Manek said. “So, that’s pretty cool, just to know how popular we were at that time. And for everybody to notice us as those guys on those teams. He’s a good dude. He’s a really good teammate. I’ve enjoyed being around him.

“But North Carolina is better than Duke, and it will always be that way.”

This story was originally published July 14, 2022 6:00 AM.

Roderick Boone joined the Observer in September 2021 to cover the Charlotte Hornets and NBA. In his more than two decades of writing about the world of sports, he’s chronicled everything from high school rodeo to a major league baseball no-hitter to the Super Bowl to the Finals. The Long Island native has deep North Carolina roots and enjoys watching “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air” endlessly.
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