INDIANAPOLIS — A glance across the gym during the Indiana Pacers’ pre-draft workout Friday, and it may have looked like hometown hero Larry Bird was trying out for the team. The hair, height and even a corner 3-pointer were all eerily similar to the Indiana native and Hall of Famer, but nope, that wasn’t Bird.
That was North Carolina standout Brady Manek, or as some people call the Oklahoma native, “Larry from the Prairie.”
“Basically I grew my hair out and the media took it to a whole different level,” Manek said, smiling as he explained the nickname. “I just let it happen, and this is where I’m at now. Got the beard, got the long hair now. It just gives people something to recognize me by, so I’m just gonna stick with it.”
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Their resemblance isn’t the only thing Manek and Bird have in common. They both played in the NCAA championship, with Bird and Indiana State losing to Magic Johnson and Michigan State in 1979, while Manek and the Tar Heels fell to Kansas in April.
“It was one of those games, one of those tournaments, one of those couple-week processes where you keep winning and it benefits everybody,” Manek said. “Everybody on the team got a lot of coverage, got a lot of publicity. It was really good for all of us to be on that stage and show that we belong.”
Manek had a breakout year during his lone season in Chapel Hill. He averaged career-highs of 15.1 points and 6.1 rebounds while shooting a career-high 40.3% on 6.2 3-point attempts per game.
The 6-9 forward scored 20 points to help North Carolina defeat Duke in coach Mike Krzyzewski’s last game at Cameron Indoor Stadium, and Manek followed that up with another 14 points against the Blue Devils in the Final Four to end Coach K’s career.
“Those are really big games, very much so talked about for the rest of my time (there),” Manek said. “It was really cool to see the fans be in Chapel Hill, be on Franklin Street, just throughout the tournament, after the tournament. Just really good people in Chapel Hill. It was awesome.”
Prior to North Carolina, Manek had a noteworthy four-year career at Oklahoma and wouldn’t have been able to join the Tar Heels without the NCAA granting athletes an extra year of eligibility due to COVID-19. He views that opportunity as a blessing and maximized it.
“I would say the doubters, everybody doubting every year I’ve played,” Manek said, describing the most challenging part of his career. “Getting into high school, people thinking I wasn’t gonna play, ended up playing a lot. (In) college, talks would be maybe not playing much just being a local kid, ended up starting four years at Oklahoma. Transferred to North Carolina, people saying we’re not good enough, I’m not good enough. We proved ’em wrong, we go to the national championship.
“So just keep proving everybody wrong, that’s what pushes me the most.”
Manek was joined Friday by Michigan’s Eli Brooks, Tulsa’s Jeriah Horne, Seton Hall’s Jared Rhoden, Maryland’s Fatts Russell and Texas Tech’s Bryson Williams. In addition to the Pacers, who have the Nos. 6, 31 and 58 picks in Thursday’s draft, Manek has worked out for the Hawks, Timberwolves, Kings and Wizards, per HoopsHype.
Manek drained 333 3-pointers during his college career and 235 of them were at Oklahoma, the fifth-most in program history. He said he learned how to play from his parents, Cary and Tina, and was pushed by his older brother, Kellen. All four earned high school All-State honors in Oklahoma and continued playing in college.
Manek is trying to take it one step further by suiting up in the NBA.
“We’ll see what happens,” Manek said. “If I can get there and get that opportunity, it’ll be really, really cool, really cool for me and my family and everybody that supports me.”
Follow IndyStar Pacers beat writer James Boyd on Twitter: @RomeovilleKid. Reach him via email: [email protected]