Take the Opportunity

Sterling Manley knew he would be in for a big game when he walked into the Dean Smith Center. Coming off his nine point, eight rebound performance against Northern Iowa, the 6-foot-11 freshman forward told Luke Maye he was feeling himself that night.

"He was like 'I'm feeling a double-double today,'" Maye said. "And I was like 'Aye, we need it.'"

It only took 13 minutes for Manley's prediction to come true, grabbing 11 of his 16 points and 10 of his 13 rebounds in that time frame for his first career double-double, helping the Tar Heels knock off Bucknell 93-81 on Wednesday night

In a game that lacked flow at times, Manley was the anchor for UNC, dominating the glass with boards for put backs and getting tip outs to his teammates that kept possessions going or got his team in transition. 

There was the and-1 bucket with 10 and half minutes left in the game to put his team up seven. And the hockey assist to Kenny Williams for the sweet reverse layup to ice the game. And the four turnovers forced off travels from suffocating defense in the post. Wherever the ball was, Manley was there, bouncing around the court with lots of energy as he built confidence. 

"Nobody really expected that," Theo Pinson said of Manley's performance. "No one knows what they’ll get from the freshmen in these types of games. He lost himself in the game and just played."

That effort on the court doesn't always come easy for Manley. Coach Roy Williams remembers when he first recruited Manley, and how he came up to him after a game in high school, looking like a "puppy dog," asking what he could do to improve. 

"I said, ‘you got to try to understand you got to need one thing,'" Williams said. "He said ‘what?’ And I rubbed my hand across his forehead; he didn’t have one bead of sweat on him. I said ‘you got to learn how to sweat son.’"

Manley has sweat a lot in his time at Carolina. He has to, because he still has only passed two of this three conditioning drills, the mile run and the 33. Still left is his 12 minute. Luke Maye said he's run it over 12 times, and he still hasn't beaten it. And under Williams' rules, Manley can't start until he does, even if his 21 rebounds through two games is the most by a UNC freshman since Ed Davis. 

So for now, he comes off the bench, which Manley seems comfortable with through two games.

"Coach always talks about being ready to play 30 seconds or you playing a minute," Manley said. "If I’m playing 30 seconds, it’s going to be the best 30 seconds I've ever played."

What's taken adjustment is the expectations. How much information he has to take in and put back out in quick succession. The fast paced practices help slow down the games. But the feedback for Manley is persistent, particularly from Coach Williams.

"He’s on me constantly," Manley said." He may congratulate me one time, but then I make a bad play and he’s on me just like that."

Williams said he doesn't know which of his freshmen big men, including Garrison Brooks and Brandon Huffman, will step up each night. He said it will probably depend on the hot hand at a given time.

So Manley knows he'll have the chance to get his number called often. With Tony Bradley, Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks all missing from UNC's front court this season, he's aware of the minutes he and the rest of the big men have to cover. 

"I knew we would have a major impact," Manley said. "It was our goal to take it and grasp it. Was I going to the take the opportunity or just sit back and let it go by?"

On Wednesday, Manley grabbed the opportunity in front of him like a rebound off the rim. And as the Tar Heels head west, they can only hope he'll have more opportunities to grab in the weeks to come. 


Photo by Caleb Jones