Well into Big 12 play, Oklahoma point guard Trae Young and forward Brady Manek have proven they're one of the nation's most prolific freshman tandems. Trouble is, so far the duo has widely been portrayed as a one-man show.
A pair of in-state recruits who excelled just 39 miles apart, Young was a 5-star gem out of Norman North while Manek was a 4-star prize from Harrah. Both wanted to have an immediate impact on the Sooners and such certainly has been the case.
“(Brady) is the first person I look for because I know he's smart enough to get to where there's an opening for him to score and get a quick bucket, and I know if I throw it around the rim he can go get it, too.”
-- Trae Young
Young and Manek simultaneously arrived at a program that had followed its 2016 Final Four appearance with a demoralizing 11-20 record last season. Halfway through their 30-game schedule, the Sooners have risen from the ashes with a 15-4 record, own four victories over Top-10 opponents and are ranked No. 12 heading into Saturday's 1:15 p.m. contest against Alabama.
With a combined scoring average of 41.6 points per game, Young (30.3) and Manek (11.3) comprise the highest-scoring freshman tandem in the country. They own a comfortable margin over the runner-up freshman duo of Duke's Marvin Bagley III (21.6) and Gary Trent Jr. (14.7).
Only three freshmen in the country are averaging more than 20 points and Young owns a comfortable lead over Howard's RJ Cole (23.4) and Bagley.
Young also leads the nation in assists at 9.6 per game. The next highest freshman is Murray State's Ja Morant with a 6.4 average.
As he continues his assault on Division I all-time freshman scoring and assist records, Young understandably has been bombarded with interview requests. Meanwhile, quietly complementing the cause has been Manek, who is due some attention himself.
Basketball definitely is a family affair for the Maneks. Brady's older brother, Kellen, is a 6-foot-7, 227-pound redshirt freshman forward at Oral Roberts. Brady's mother Tina, and father, Cary, both played hoops at Oklahoma Christian. Grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins frequently attend Brady's practices and many have become OU season ticketholders.
Manek grew up in Edmond, attending Cross Timbers Elementary School and Cimarron Middle School before moving to Harrah his freshman year in high school. Growing up, Manek played against future OU teammates Young and Edmond Memorial's Kristian Doolittle, plus other local standouts.
“I played against all these guys who are in college basketball somewhere.” Manek said. “I feel that helped me get better in a way.”
Going against older players also helped improve Manek's game.
“I've always been able to shoot,” Manek said. “I grew up playing against people who were 2 or 3 years older than me. You can't just go in there and shoot a layup because they're three years older than you and you're a little kid. I always had my brother (Kellen) on the team and he was the bruiser down low. I was always finding ways to get open and moving without the ball.”
Manek freely admits he wanted to stay close to home when it came to playing collegiately.
“I like going home,” Manek said. “I like being around family. I like hanging out. I have a dog at home, just typical things. As for going far away, I would have done it if that was the only option (scholarship offer), but I'm glad I got to stay close.”
Manek, who had a 4.0 GPA in high school, is a combination of book smarts and basketball smarts. OU head coach Lon Kruger raves about Manek's instincts, rebounding ability and court awareness.
“We expected him to be a really good college player,” Kruger said. “We didn't know how quickly, but there's still plenty of room for improvement.”
At Harrah, Manek frequently found himself surrounded by multiple defenders. He still managed to average a double-double as a senior with 24.3 points and 11.6 rebounds and was tabbed by The Oklahoman as Little All-City Player of the Year in back-to-back seasons (2016-17).
These days, thanks to Young's baseline-to-baseline wizardry, Manek doesn't feel nearly as claustrophobic. In non-conference play, 28 of Manek's 49 field goals came on assists from Young.
Though he currently is shooting 50.9 percent from the field, 43.4 percent from 3-point range and is averaging 5.3 rebounds, Manek acknowledges he has shortcomings.
“Since I got here, I still struggle with defense,” he said. “I've always had trouble guarding the ball, things like that. In high school, I didn't really play defense at all. I just stayed in the paint and blocked shots. I feel I keep improving, but I'm still not where I want to be.”
The 19-year-old Manek has shown remarkable maturity by adjusting his game accordingly. If his shot isn't falling or he's not in an offensive flow, Manek will re-focus on other parts of his game.
“I try not to force things – shoot it when I'm open, go rebound, things like that,” Manek said. “Just play fundamental basketball. There's really not much to it. Don't force it. Don't try to make that big play, just make the simple one.”
Manek misfired from long range over Thanksgiving weekend in the PK80 Invitational at Portland, Ore., shooting a combined 2 for 13 (.154) on 3-pointers against Arkansas, Portland and Oregon.
After a solid showing in a victory over then-No. 25 USC on Dec. 8, Manek's coming out party came eight days later at then-No. 3 Wichita State, where he and Young combined for 50 points with 37 coming in the first half. Young finished with 29 points and Manek scored 21.
“I loved it,” Young said of Manek's performance. “Brady had a tremendous game. This is nothing new to me having played against Brady since I was in third and fourth grade. I've known about Brady's game for a while. He came out and showed the world what we've known all along about him.”
It was a pick-and-pop paradise for Young and Manek, who took turns demoralizing a raucous Shockers crowd of 15,004 at INTRUST Bank Arena.
“He's the first person I look for in transition, no matter if he's behind me, in front of me, right next to me,” Young has said of Manek. “He's the first person I look for because I know he's smart enough to get to where there's an opening for him to score and get a quick bucket, and I know if I throw it around the rim he can go get it, too.”
The Sooners embarked on 12-day, four-game overseas trip to New Zealand and Australia in August, which included 10 practice sessions beforehand. Perhaps no one benefited more from that trek than Manek.
“My confidence has grown quite a bit (since joining the Sooners),” Manek said. “Being able to knock down shots always helps. I struggled at first, but being able to know I can hit shots in big games against good players helps the confidence go way up.”
For two locals playing together in their first year on campus, Manek is cherishing the experience of tearing it up alongside Young.
“It's pretty cool to be able to come from the same area, grow up together and be able to hit shots like we are and to play like we are – a lot of pick and pop,” Manek said of teaming up with Young. “We're moving the ball well with everybody on our team. It's just cool to be two freshman starting on a Big 12 team that's doing as well as we have so far.”