Sterling Manley had a lot to take in when he signed with North Carolina.
After an injury-limited career at Pickerington Central essentially compressed his recruitment into a few hot months, Manley accepted a scholarship offer from coach Roy Williams and signed with one of the nation’s pre-eminent programs.
Then once he did, Manley took a look at the schedule for his freshman season and immediately noticed one game: Saturday against Ohio State in New Orleans as part of the CBS Sports Classic. It’s as much a chance for Manley to show everyone back home how much he has developed as it is to show the Buckeyes what they missed by not offering him.
“I’m looking forward to just coming back and playing the home team, your hometown, just being able to go out and show them what I can do,” Manley said. “Just to show them new stuff that I’ve learned, new stuff that I’ve picked up as I’m improving like I always have and just show them what they saw and what Ohio State’s missing.”
Manley, 6 feet 11 and 240 pounds, is averaging 6.8 points and 5.4 rebounds through 12 games with the Tar Heels. He had 16 points and 13 rebounds against Bucknell in the second game of the season, giving him the most rebounds for a player in 17 minutes of action in Williams’ 15-year career at North Carolina.
Manley said that although he grew up an Ohio State football fan, he didn’t have a favorite college basketball team because he was more into the NBA. Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan were his idols because of their tenacity and love of fundamentals, he said.
While both teams were in Portland, Oregon, last month for the PK80 Invitational, Manley met up with Westerville South graduates Andre and Kaleb Wesson. All three keep in contact and Manley said he would probably talk with Kaleb Wesson once or twice this week leading into the game.
“There’s freshmen ups and downs so when he’s feeling down or I’m having a down game we just say push through it because we know what we want to do in the long run,” Kaleb Wesson said.
The Wessons aren't the first local natives Manley will play against this season. Manley faced Michigan State's Nick Ward, a Gahanna graduate, during the PK80 but said his relationship with Kaleb Wesson is special.
As seniors, Manley and Wesson met in a game at Westerville South. Pickerington Central won 62-57, but Wesson had 19 points and 12 rebounds and went right at Manley on the opening possession and scored while being fouled to set a tone.
“I’m all about Ohio kids, us Ohio kids that make it out do something with the gifts and talents that we’ve been given,” Manley said. “It’ll definitely be special and be kind of surreal. It won’t set in until a few minutes after I get into the game and then it’ll be like back to high school days when he was going at me and I was going at him.”
Manley will also face a former teammate in Ohio State senior Jae’Sean Tate, who hails from the same neighborhood and drove him home from practices when he was a senior and Manley was a freshman. On Thursday, Tate called Manley “my little ‘bro” and said he’s amazed at how much he’s grown.
“It was crazy because my senior year I promise you I was taller than him and then I came back and played an open gym and he was like 7 feet,” said the 6-4 Tate. “I’m like, ‘What the heck happened?’ ”
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