PITT MEADOWS — On first glance, and for obvious reasons, 6-foot-8, 320-pound Giovanni Manu has a way of locking down your focus.
Yet it’s what happens in the moments after he catches your eye that makes him an irresistible fan favourite.
Expect that to be the case Saturday evening at Richmond’s R.C. Palmer Secondary when the big man from Pitt Meadows suits up for the Triple A’s as they oppose the Quad A’s in the annual B.C. high school all-star basketball game.
But as well, get ready to see Manu in action as early as next season when he finally becomes a one-sport athlete, strapping on the shoulder pads to learn the intricacies of offensive line play as a freshman with the UBC Thunderbirds football team.
“Giovanni’s potential is obviously due to his physical size and his genetics,” begins UBC head football coach Blake Nill, who will bring the Pitt Meadows Marauders’ dual -sport standout into the fulltime gridiron world this fall. “But more important and more impressive are his movement skills. They are above average. We have recognized Giovanni as one of the top (high school senior varsity) athletes in Canada for the last year-and-a-half, and his ability to move means he is going to be able to compete right away on the field because of his ability to keep up with the speed of the game.”
Manu has played basketball all his life, but didn’t begin playing football until his arrival at Pitt Meadows Secondary in the fall of 2013.
That said, Manu admits he did not get an offer to play collegiate basketball, despite the fact he averaged 30 points and 13 rebounds per game over his senior season, blocking out the sun and leading the Marauders into the B.C. AAA championships last month at the Langley Events Centre.
NOT IN HIS HOUSE
Manu’s growth spurt story is similar to many of B.C.’s other vertically-gifted student-athletes. Where his differs however, is in the ways he added both verticality and weight at the same time.
In eighth grade, he was a mere 6-foot-1, 210 pounds.
In Grade 9, those numbers went to 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds.
In Grade 10, however, he sprouted five inches to 6-foot-8, simultaneously adding 80 pounds to tip the scales at an even 300.
“Coming into Grade 8, I was already a big kid, and I was always seen as someone who had no agility or movement,” Manu says. “I had to prove them all wrong. Mr. Goulet (former longtime Pitt Meadows basketball coach Rich Goulet) built such a great program here and he saw it in me, so I had to make the roster. It all took off from there.”
Watch Manu in his final basketball game Saturday, and you will understand the physics and dynamics of anchored weight as it pertains to being a presence in the paint.
When Manu defends down low, opposition players either bounce off his ground-zero centre of gravity, or they will suffocate in traffic, comically underestimating just how long it takes to get around the muscled mass of humanity he represents.
And when Manu gets the ball on offence, he can be deadly off a once-bounce pivot, with his competitive zeal, his technique, and his soft-touch hands allowing him to score through old school power and finesse.
FOLLOWING IN THE FOOTSTEPS…
Nill, in addition to football, wrestled through his formative sports years, and he needs no convincing that dual-sport athletes come into his program with advantages.
The football-basketball double?
“As an offensive tackle, what I love about that most is that he is going to be playing in space,” says Nill of Manu, who projects as a left tackle. “The game of football has progressed to so much finesse, so an athlete like Giovanni can be well suited.”
That’s not to say Manu doesn’t have a lot to learn, like all rookies do, about life within one of U Sports’ most accomplished programs.
Yet at his core, he owns a heavily-repped instinct honed from the basketball court, one which very few before him in provincial history have ever modelled as well through roles as football-basketball big men.
Richmond’s Bobby Singh had it. So did Parksville-Ballenas’ Justin Sorenesen. Both, like Manu, chose football.
“That’s the thing I like about basketball the most,” Manu adds. “It’s that you are constantly moving and playing a quick-paced game. I love moving in the paint, using my footwork to position myself to receive the ball.”
Nill knows he has a potential diamond in the rough.
“They all say big and strong,” the coach begins, “but from an offensive line perspective, more than big and strong is the ability to move your feet against higher athletic competition.
“The thing is, Giovanni has the genetics to go as far as he wants,” Nill concludes. “What it will come down to is his mindset and having met him numerous times already, I know he is a competitor who is motivated to come and get started.”
After Saturday, the big man cometh.
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