NORMAN, Okla. — Brady Manek’s strong freshman season was largely overlooked while the college basketball world was enamored with his Oklahoma teammate Trae Young.
The 6-foot-9 forward was Oklahoma’s No. 3 scorer last season with 10.2 points per game. Now that Young has left for the NBA, Manek will be depended upon more.
“I feel like people really sleep on Brady,” Oklahoma guard Christian James said Thursday morning after a conditioning session. “He’s going to have a great year.”
Manek is hard to overlook for other reasons, too. He’s given up his buzz cut, and with the longer hair and mustache, he bears a striking resemblance to Larry Bird in the late 1970s. Manek gave no specific reason for the new look, though he said his mother likes it and his father isn’t a fan.
“I’ve never had it this long, ever,” he said. “Why not?”
Manek is undergoing another physical change, too — filling out a slender frame that got knocked around a bit last year. He also is working to diversify his offensive skills. Last season, more than half his shots were 3-pointers.
“Mainly just trying to create my own shot, not just catch it and shoot it,” he said. “Working down low, going for the offensive rebound every time. Little things in the game to make me a little bit better.”
The results are already starting to show.
“He’s improved so much,” James said. “Just ballhandling, being relentless on the boards, and his shot is getting so much better.”
From December to January last season, Manek shared the marquee with Young. He scored 21 points against Wichita State, 22 against Northwestern State, 28 against Oklahoma State and 22 against TCU.
Manek reached double figures just once in his final eight games, but still shot 47 percent from the field and 38 percent from 3-point range for the season.
“He was incredible,” James said. “He knocked down big shots. He rebounded the ball well. I feel like for a freshman, he had an unbelievable season.”
Manek will have to adjust without Young to set him up. Aaron Calixte, a graduate transfer from Maine, will compete with graduate transfer Miles Reynolds and freshman Jamal Bieniemy for the chance to replace Young.
“It’s a little bit different,” Manek said. “When you have a player like Trae on the court, he does a lot of things. When you lose that, you bring players that have other advantages to them and strengths to them. You figure out how to play with them and play with each other.”
Manek already has left an impression on Calixte.
“He’s tough,” he said. “He’s a hard-nosed forward. He plays hard all the time. He can really shoot it from deep. He just plays hard. He brings that every single day.”