Trevor Manuel, from certain angles, looks like a young Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — his facial structure, his old-school beard, his Afro, his height relative to the rest of society.
“I’ve heard that a couple times, like Kareem when he was playing for the Bucks,” Manuel, 22, said Thursday night at the Moneyball Pro-Am just outside Lansing.
The comparisons end right about there. In part, by choice. On the court, Manuel would rather be Kevin Durant than Kareem. That’s his chance at a career at the highest level of this sport, he, his father, and latest college coach believe. As they see it, he is a guard trapped in a stereotype that comes with being 6-feet-10-inches tall.
This quest to be seen as a perimeter player has contributed to a depressing college basketball odyssey. That and impatience.
If you’ve forgotten about Manuel or given up on Manuel as a basketball player, there’s a lot of evidence to support your case.
He’s gone from big-time Division I basketball recruit — a star at two different Lansing High Schools — to the University of Oregon, then Loyola Marymount and, finally, now, Division-III Olivet College, where he unexpectedly had to sit out last season because not enough of his credits transferred. He’s expected to play this season, his senior season, which will be his only full season of college basketball.
“My plan is still to play in the NBA,” he said Thursday.
Olivet does not have a rich NBA history, you might have guessed. Of course its history also doesn’t include any former four-star recruits with Big Ten scholarship offers, including, at one point, Michigan State.
“I don’t live life through regrets,” Manuel said. “Everybody has their own path. Everybody has their own obstacles they have to get through in life. I’m trying to get through mine and live my life. And I’m happy with the decisions I’ve made because it’s made me the man I am today.”
By every account I’ve come across, Manuel is a decent kid with a good heart, who grew up without a lot of extras, living on Lansing’s south, north, east and west sides.
“Both my parents worked as hard as they could to bring in money,” he said. “But sometimes we just weren’t able to stay in one spot for a very long time.”
He played two years at Sexton High School, winning a state championship as a freshman in 2012 alongside Denzel Valentine (MSU, Chicago Bulls), Bryn Forbes (MSU, San Antonio Spurs), Anthony Clemmons (Iowa) and Jalen Hayes (Oakland). Then, when Carlton Valentine stepped down as the Big Reds’ coach, Manuel left town for the famed Oak Hill prep school/basketball factory in Virginia. He returned to Lansing for his senior season, helping Everett to the state semifinals. Months earlier, he’d signed to play at Oregon in the Pac-12, without visiting another school.
Only Manuel truly knows what he’d do differently, if anything, if he had to do it all over again. And how much his father’s heavy influence has had a hand in his unconventional trek.
Here are a few clips of former Lansing high school star Trevor Manuel at the Moneyball Pro-Am, including twice being defended by MSU’s Thomas Kithier. Graham Couch, Lansing State Journal.
“I hear it,” Manuel said of the criticism of his dad. “But a lot of kids in urban areas, they don’t have fathers. I came up with that. He’s been a positive influence on my life. He’s been there every step of the way. I know a lot of people have a lot of bad things or some negative things to say, but no one else has been there. He knows what’s best for me. I trust him with my life and my career.”
James Manuel is admittedly an invested father. He moved to Eugene, Oregon and Los Angeles during Trevor’s previous college stops. He scoffed at the notion that he was overbearing or too influential.
“If he was listening to me, we’d be a lot further than we are right now,” James Manuel said. “Those were his choices, the schools he went to, all of those were his choices. None of them were mine. I didn’t approve of him going to Oregon. I accepted it because that’s where he wanted to go. I thought he should have played at Michigan State or Michigan or Villanova or one of those schools where people would have helped him, made him better as a man and not just put him out there.”
Trevor picked Oregon with the understanding he’d be a small forward there, his father said. It didn’t happen. It didn’t really have time to happen. He lasted one semester, playing in nine games as a true freshman in November and December of 2015, averaging about one point, one rebound and a blocked shot in seven minutes per game.
He transferred mid-season to Loyola Marymount — a mid-major known for being the program of Bo Kimble and the late Hank Gathers — and, per NCAA rules, had to sit out until January of the following year. In 21 games for Loyola Marymount, Manuel averaged 5.5 points and 2.6 rebounds. Then he left again.
“I found out in the recruiting process the coaches will tell you what you want to hear and when you get to campus, it’ll be a whole different thing,” Trevor said.
Loyola Marymount coach Mike Dunlap, once the head coach of the NBA’s Charlotte Bobcats, didn’t respond to an interview request Friday.
Ernst often played Trevor at point guard on that team.
At Olivet, he’ll finally be a small forward.
“He’s a 3-man,” Ernst said. “He’s a 6-10 3-man. He’s not even going to play the 4 for me at Olivet. He’s going to play the 3. If you tried to make him a 5 (center) or a 4 (power forward), he wouldn’t be any good for you. And that’s what the two previous schools tried to do with him.”
Ernst said Trevor Manuel has turned himself into a dangerous 3-point shooter. During the Moneyball Pro-Am, you’ll see him regularly set up beyond the 3-point line, where he’s a willing and confident shooter. This summer, he’s on Team Showtime (the gold team) with MSU players Foster Loyer and Xavier Tillman. He’ll face Big Ten talent, overseas pros and fringe NBA guys in Moneyball. The question is whether he’ll see enough quality competition at Olivet to improve his game and get noticed.
“I think so,” said Ernst, whose program finished tied with Hope atop in the MIAA last season. “That’s why we play (Division II schools) Ferris (State) and Saginaw (Valley State) and Findlay and Lake Superior State. The D-Is won’t play us.
“Certainly perception is reality. We’re going to market Trevor. He’s living the right away. He’s doing the right things that players do. This has been a brutal mental thing (for him), too. To have pride in playing at Olivet, to have pride here, it’s tough. This isn’t Oregon. You come here and take student loans out, eat a lot of cafeteria food here. This is a different thing.”
“I’ve just got to go out there and play my game,” Trevor said. “I’ve got to be the best person I can be every time I step on the floor.”