We continue our 2019-20 UNC Basketball player previews with junior center Sterling Manley and what to expect from the veteran big man this year.
Each passing day means we’re getting ever so closer to the start of the 2019-20 college basketball season, with UNC Basketball boasting a roster stacked with upperclassmen and veterans primed to make another deep postseason run.
Up next in our player preview series is junior center Sterling Manley, who’s status in the rotation is up in the air following a rough sophomore season riddled with inconsistency and injury woes.
2018-19 Season in Review
What was at first viewed as a competitive positional battle for the starting spot — which saw both Manley start the two Bahamas exhibitions and Garrison Brooks start in the exhibition against Mount Olive — would quickly turn into a bona fide center hierarchy, with Brooks securing the starting gig and leaving backup duties to Manley.
The allure for starting Manley was obvious. Standing at 6-foot-11 with a sturdy 250-pound frame, the Pickerington, Ohio native served as UNC’s largest post player and only legitimate rim deterrent (among major rotation players), with both Luke Maye (6-foot-8) and Brooks (6-foot-9) not providing much in terms of rim defense. Not to mention, a first-year Manley boasted superior per-40 splits (21.7 points, 14.4 rebounds, 2.6 blocks) than the first-year Brooks (12.4 points, 9.5 rebounds, 0.8 blocks) on higher efficiency, with a collection of advanced stats backing him up as well.
But it was Brooks who took the starting job and ran away with it, and as the season bore on, it was proven to be the correct move. Not only from a production standpoint — Manley would go on to average 3.5 points, 2.9 rebounds, and 0.4 blocks per game, all declines from his freshman year — but also in terms of health.
Lingering knee soreness in his left knee, an issue that is still plaguing him today, first knocked him out of competition at the beginning of the year and would keep him sidelined for two months. When all was said in done, Manley had only appeared in 18 of 36 games, missing half of his sophomore season and only playing a total of three (!) minutes of conference basketball.
What to expect in 2019-20?
Health is by far Manley’s biggest question mark right now and considering comments made by Roy Williams at the Tar Heels’ media day on October 2, that uncertainty isn’t going away anytime soon.
It was revealed that Manley underwent offseason knee surgery on that same knee that bothered him throughout his sophomore campaign. While UNC didn’t provide specific details of the procedure nor the nature of it, requiring surgery is never a positive, especially not when it involves a 6-foot-11 center with a laundry list of lower-body issues (including two broken legs in high school).
As of right now, Manley has yet to participate in practice, with coach Williams noting that he’s simply doing nothing right now. The team is still trying to understand the nature of his knee issues, a concerning sign as the 2019-20 season draws ever so closer.
It seems as if the junior big man’s status for the upcoming season will be up in the air for the foreseeable future. Although we can’t honestly make assumptions regarding his condition, we can safely say that both Brooks and five-star freshman Armando Bacot will see plenty of time at ‘4’ and ‘5,’ with graduate-transfer Justin Pierce and sophomore do-it-all wing Leaky Black seeing regular minutes at the ‘4’ in small-ball situations as well.
We would love to say that Sterling Manley will see the floor during the 2019-20 season and that he’ll be an effective and available member of what looks to be a talented group of Tar Heels. But we can’t ensure that he’ll be ready to suit up in only a few weeks when the season is set to start, nor that he’ll be available throughout his junior season.
Given his current situation, I expect that Manley will see very little time on the court this year — likely less than what he saw as a sophomore, with the unfortunate (yet real) possibility that he doesn’t suit up at all and ultimately treats this as a get-right redshirt season.
Tar Heels everywhere would love to see him sport that beautiful shade of Carolina blue sooner rather than later, but more than anything, we all just want to see him healthy.
Check back with Keeping It Heel for the more coverage on Sterling Manley and everything UNC.