UNC basketball at Wake Forest will feature battle of former Oklahoma Sooner teammates

·4 min read

The emergence of Wake Forest guard Alondes Williams as the ACC’s leader in scoring and assists may have taken most in the league by surprise. But North Carolina’s Brady Manek isn’t one of them.

The 6-foot-9 forward saw a steady glimpse of Williams’ skill over the past two seasons when both played for Oklahoma.

After Sooners coach Lon Kruger announced his retirement at the end of the season, Williams and Manek parted ways and have gone from teammates to Tobacco Road rivals.

Saturday’s game between the Tar Heels and Demon Deacons at 8 p.m. in Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum is the only scheduled meeting between the two teams — and former Sooners — in the regular season.

Manek said he didn’t grow up consumed by watching sports, but he follows many of his former teammates. That includes Williams, who is doing full time for Wake what he only did in snapshots for the Sooners.

“You’d see flashes in practice,” Manek told The News & Observer. “Late game, late clock, you wanted him to have the ball. He’s one of those guys that’s a really, really good ISO (isolation) player.”

Williams didn’t get to show it much in games for the Sooners, where he averaged just 6.7 points per game and 1.3 assists last season. With a new fit at Wake, Williams has had a breakout season and is averaging 20.3 points per game and 5.2 assists.

Duke’s A.J. Griffin (21) shoots as Wake Forest’s Alondes Williams (31) defends during Duke’s 76-64 victory over Wake Forest at LJVM Coliseum in Winston-Salem, N.C., Wednesday, January 12, 2022.
Duke’s A.J. Griffin (21) shoots as Wake Forest’s Alondes Williams (31) defends during Duke’s 76-64 victory over Wake Forest at LJVM Coliseum in Winston-Salem, N.C., Wednesday, January 12, 2022.

Williams never had a starring role at OU. As a junior college transfer, he spent his first season as a role player. Although he started the first half of last season, once he missed three games in COVID-19 protocol, he fell behind De’Vion Harmon and Elijah Harkless in the Sooners’ rotation upon his return.

“It’s great to see Alondes doing that,” Kruger told The N&O. “He’s a powerful athlete who really gets in the paint and finishes strong in the hole. Obviously, coach (Steve) Forbes has got him in position to have great success and terrific to see Alondes is taking advantage of that. I’m a huge fan of his.”

UNC coach Hubert Davis came across Manek’s name from an article that listed the top transfers available. And when he looked at Manek’s highlights through Synergy he decided to reach out to him.

“I was instantly impressed in somebody that did exactly what I thought this team needed and what I was looking for as a head coach,” Davis said.

Manek averages 12.4 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. He’s second on the team with 32 made 3-pointers behind Caleb Love’s 38. Manek moved into Carolina’s starting lineup when Dawson Garcia missed two games with a concussion and has remained a starter in the two games since Garcia’s return.

North Carolina transfer Brady Manek (45) eyes the crowd in the Smith Center during the National Anthem on Friday, November 5, 2021 at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill, N.C.
North Carolina transfer Brady Manek (45) eyes the crowd in the Smith Center during the National Anthem on Friday, November 5, 2021 at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill, N.C.

Kruger said Manek may be known for being a “pick-and-pop” stretch-4, but he may be underrated as a defender who would do whatever was needed to win.

“He enjoyed that challenge,” Kruger said. “Brady’s about team and if he could help by taking on a low-post guy with more size, he was anxious to do that.”

Williams said he’s looking forward to seeing “Larry Bird,” which was one of the nicknames Manek had at OU. (The other was “Brady Bunch.”) He recalled Manek as a sharp-shooting big but said his competitive streak stood out the most.

“On the court, he takes it serious,” Williams told The N&O. “Like he misses a shot, he gets real mad at himself. I’d be trying to tell him, ‘Calm down. Don’t kill yourself now.’ ”

It’s not quite do or die for Carolina after Tuesday’s 28-point loss at Miami, but it’s getting closer. The ACC schedule doesn’t offer up as many potential quality wins as it typically does.

The Heels don’t have any Quad I wins in the NCAA’s NET rankings, which is a metric used in determining NCAA Tournament bids and seeding. A road win at Wake would change that. UNC only has three games remaining after Saturday — Duke (twice) and at Virginia Tech — as opportunities for Quad I wins, according to the latest NET rankings.

Winning the game may come down to how well the Heels can slow down Williams. Sophomore guard Love or senior forward Leaky Black will most likely get that defensive assignment for Carolina.

“The biggest thing is just playing hard. I feel like we get away from that every now and then,” Manek said. “We just have to show up and play hard. He’s gonna want to be ready to go. Alondes getting to play against North Carolina, me and him getting to play against each other. He’s gonna be ready to go. And he’s a really big threat on their team right now.”

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