If Wright State’s front line wasn’t ravaged by injuries, James Manns probably would spend this season just like the previous one — cheering for the team from a sideline seat and performing mop-up duty in games that were already decided.
But the Raiders’ have had to do without Loudon Love (elbow) and Aleksandar Dozic (back), which has elevated redshirt freshman Grant Basile into the starting lineup and Manns into a pivotal role for the first time.
The 6-foot-7 third-year sophomore popped off the bench at 13:36 of the first half against Indiana State on Saturday and was the best player on the floor over the next five minutes. He hit a pair of 3-pointers in a 10-point, three-rebound flurry and received a rousing ovation from the 3,509 fans along with warm embraces from teammates after being replaced.
“It made me feel good,” he said of the enthusiastic response. “They knew I could do it, and I just had to believe in myself.”
Though the Raiders were dealt an 84-77 overtime loss, Manns had 13 points, making 3 of 4 three-pointers, with four rebounds in 12 minutes.
His previous career highs were eight points and three boards.
“James, the last two years, has been the scout team’s best player, their shooter,” Basile said. “And now that he’s stepped into a little bigger role, he’s really played well offensively, and it isn’t a surprise to any of us.”
Coach Scott Nagy certainly knew Manns had that in him.
“James just knows how to put the ball in the basket. For some guys, that isn’t easy to do. It’s very easy for James,” Nagy said.
Manns played at Columbus Walnut Ridge High School and averaged 18 points and six rebounds as a senior. He then spent one year in prep school at Kingston Academy in Middletown, averaging 16 points and seven rebounds.
He chose Wright State over several mid-majors, including league rival Milwaukee.
“I’ve been able to shoot ever since I was young. That’s my main thing,” he said. “I’ve always played inside, but I can shoot from outside, make mid-range shots or score around the rim. I’m an all-around player.”
Well, maybe not quite yet.
Known for being a stickler for defense, Nagy would prefer to wait until Manns, who appeared in just 16 games last season, was further along in that area before playing him. But the coach doesn’t have much choice.
When Basile and Manns were in foul trouble against Indiana State, the Raiders went with an all-perimeter lineup, alternating 6-6 wings Bill Wampler and Tanner Holden at the 5 spot.
“The one thing about James, you can play him a few minutes, and he can score a lot of points. That’s what he does. What we’ve needed him to do is get better defensively, guard better in the post and rebound better,” Nagy said.
“That’s more important to me. James has to get better at the other stuff.”
When Love was injured, Manns figured the Raiders would go with the 6-9 Basile as the starter — and he wasn’t discouraged over getting beaten out by a freshman.
“Grant’s a good player. He’s longer and taller. He’s doing everything he’s supposed to do, too. He deserved that job.” Manns said.
He said he never thought about transferring when he was buried on the depth chart. His family comes to every home game — even showing up while he was redshirting his first year — and he’s happy just being a Raider.
“I’ve always thought, ‘Just give it all you’ve got, continue to go hard in practice, don’t ever give up. Your time is going to come eventually. And when you get your chance, prove you should be out there,’” he said.
“I just want to do what I need to do to help my team win.”
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