Brady Manek’s furious finish to last season brought North Carolina achievements that will live forever in Tar Heel lore and brought him a chance to continue his basketball career.
A 6-foot-9, 3-point shooting forward with thick red hair and a beard to match, Manek scored in double figures in each of UNC’s final 19 games of the season. That included all six NCAA tournament games on the No. 8 seeded Tar Heels’ surprising run to the national title game, where they lost 72-69 to Kansas.
It also included 20 points when UNC beat Duke, 94-81, on March 5 in Mike Krzyzewski’s final game coaching the Blue Devils at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Manek added 14 points when the Tar Heels beat Duke, 81-77, in the Final Four to send Krzyzewski off to retirement.
All that, Manek said, is why he was at Wintrust Arena just south of downtown Chicago on Monday. Manek’s solid senior season at UNC, where he averaged 15.1 points per game, earned him an invitation to the G League Elite Camp where he went through agility and conditioning testing before playing in front of NBA scouts.
“My teammates,” Manek said, “we all blended together really well at the end of the season. And that’s why I’m here today is because of them, because of how we played and my impact I had on that team. It was awesome.”
Manek started his career at Oklahoma, where he played four seasons before using the fifth season of eligibility allowed under NCAA COVID-19 pandemic rules to transfer to UNC.
He averaged in double-figure scoring in all four of his seasons with the Sooners, but never more than 14.4 points per game. His season in a UNC uniform allowed him to finish college basketball with a flourish.
“I can’t be any more thankful to just be a part of it and have that experience,” Manek said.
Since UNC lost the NCAA final to Kansas on April 4 in New Orleans, Manek rested to shake off the season’s grind for about two weeks with his family. Then he began preparing for any professional basketball opportunities that could come his way.
Manek knows he’s not going to wow any scouts with otherworldly athleticism. He didn’t finish in the top 10 of any of Monday’s agility drills, such as shuttle run or vertical leap.
The G League Camp invitees were divided into four teams for two scrimmages. That’s where Manek showed his talents, scoring 10 points and grabbing seven rebounds in 17 minutes, 53 seconds of play. He sank 2 of 5 3-point attempts playing the same, solid, no-frills style he used in five seasons of college basketball.
“You gotta stay who you are,” Manek said. “I’m not gonna go out there and iso somebody and bring the ball to the floor and between my legs and hit a floater. It’s just not who I am. You gotta stay who you are. I’m a good slasher. I’m good on catch-and-shoots. I can set picks. I can roll and make the extra pass.”
It had been since that Monday night battle in the Superdome at New Orleans since Manek had played in a game like that.
“That was the first game I had where it was competitive, with people watching, with that level of players since the Final Four,” Manek said. “It was a lot of fun to get out there and get to know some of those guys.”
The top performers during the G League Elite camp often earn invitations to play during the NBA scouting combine, which continues Wednesday-Friday at Wintrust Arena. Last year, four G League campers were asked to stick around.
Manek’s NCAA tournament play has him considered as a possibility for that opportunity.
But no matter if he plays in the NBA or the G League or anywhere else as a pro, he’ll always have his Tar Heel memories. He’s confident that Armando Bacot, Leaky Black, R.J. Davis and Caleb Love — the other four starters from last season’s UNC team who are all returning for next season — will continue to find success.
“I’m very excited for them,” Manek said. “They’re gonna have a great team. They’ve gotta play with the energy and the competitiveness and play together like we did at the end of the season, and they’ll be just fine. It’s a really cool program to be a part of.”