May 3, 2013

Manning makes the call

Kevin McCarthy

Ryan Manning can't leap a tall building in a single bound but that's on his bucket list. No, he isn't more powerful than a locomotive, right now at least. But he has more important and well-rounded achievements to his credit and now he is headed to Colorado Springs for the beginning of his college journey.

photo of Ryan Manning

The Air Force Academy Preparatory School, on the Air Force Academy (AFA) campus, will be the 6-foot-6 Manning's next address. It's similar to a redshirt year at other colleges.

His take: “It's an exceptional opportunity for me. I'll first be attending the prep school and then I can transfer into the academy itself. I'll be just 17 when I graduate [from high school] so this will give me the time and opportunity to mature and grow into the player I can be and I can learn the offensive and defensive basketball systems [used by AFA Head Coach Dave Pilipovich].” The Falcons run the Princeton offense, with a lot of backdoor cuts and a focus on three-point shots.

As is stated on the Air Force Academy site: “The four top-tier sports at the Academy -- football, men's and women's basketball and volleyball -- are also priority sports at the Prep School, where students spend 10 months undergoing athletic development. Academy coaches use the Prep School as a place to build future athletes by engaging them in a competitive arena militarily, academically and athletically to prepare them for NCAA-level competition.”

What's fascinating is that attending the Air Force Academy wasn't on Manning's mind prior the Falcon coaching staff reaching out to him.

“I had no interest in going into the military but we connected earlier this year and everything was explained during a home visit. It's college with a lot of military in it.”

For background, Air Force is a member of the Mountain West Conference. The Falcons went 18-14 this past season, a fascinating split home and away -- 7-1 at home in league play, 1-7 on the road. Two wins in 2013 definitely stand out as season highlights: a 15 point win against UNLV and a one point victory over New Mexico, both 2013 Big Dance invitees.

But let's annotate the Manning résumé first with his remarkable 4.09 grade point average, including challenging AP courses. He also received an A. Dale Lackey scholarship recently for his academic and athletic achievements. Manning also finds time to volunteer at the Sacramento Food Bank and Loaves and Fishes Sacramento. On the court, he is a four-year varsity member, two seasons as a starter and, to his immense credit, played out of position more often than not because his team had the best chance of winning with him doing so.

He's a wing/two guard and even though we are in a time where desiring to be in the featured spotlight overrides anything else, Manning took to playing inside, even as a five, because that gave his Sheldon High team the best chance of being successful.

It's hard to argue with the outcome as the Huskies finished 27-6 this season, 10-0 in the rough Delta River League (DRL). Tournament victories over Pleasant Grove, then Serra, followed by Salesian, took Coach Joey Rolling's guys to a matchup with Archbishop Mitty and a 70-50 loss resulted. The year before, Sheldon fell to Mater Dei in the state finals. For the record during Manning's tenure, the Huskies won four consecutive San Joaquin Section titles along with three DRL championships.

But positioning hasn't held Manning back from re-tooling some of his skills set.

“I'm an entirely different player from my freshman year, a completely different shooter. I use to flick the ball with my arm out but I refined my jump shot with my Dad's help.”

What did it take?

“Repetition,” he offered. “Practice, practice, practice.”

He also was positioned in the post as a freshman “since I was supposed to end up at 6-foot-8 or 6-foot-10 by the end of high school.” His father measures 7-foot.

So what he'll be bringing with him to Colorado? “I'm definitely coming in with a jumpshot, lots of energy and versatility.”

His service efforts came about due to a relative.

“I got into it because my uncle was involved and he asked if I would like to help,” Manning explained. “Now I spend as much time at Loaves and Fishes as I can.”

Academically, he had a longstanding interest in the criminal justice field but now he'll be in exploration mode.

“Now I'm going to see what I can find” as he has a myriad of opportunities that will be available to him and he doesn't need to declare his major until his junior year.

Manning was born in 1995 -- two years earlier, his father Rich was drafted into the NBA as the 40th pick. The elder Manning played a couple of seasons in The Big Show and several overseas before retiring.

“I like following in my Dad's footsteps,” he said, recalling “I started playing when I was four or five and basketball became a passion of mine in the seventh grade. I played both basketball and baseball until the end of my sophomore year but from then on only basketball because I liked it more.”

What does Rich Manning think of what has transpired for his son?

“I'm incredibly proud as a Dad and a coach {he assists with the Sheldon High squad] for all of Ryan's accomplishments. It means a lot as a Dad. The quality of education he will be getting is priceless.”