Manroop Clair (right) of the UBC Thunderbirds has always been known for his ability to hoist. Now, however, his foes have to tend to an equally dangerous floor game. (Photo by Richard Lam property of UBC athletics 2019. All Rights Reserved)
Feature University Men's Basketball

The flair of UBC’s Manroop Clair: More than just a deep threat, new freedom give ‘Birds veteran guard room to prosper

VANCOUVER — Manroop Clair doesn’t care if his reputation precedes him, because let’s face it, the UBC Thunderbirds’ fourth-year transfer guard has always embraced the fact that he is known to all as a shooter’s shooter.

Yet as the U Sports’ No. 4-ranked ‘Birds (13-1) take a 12-game Canada West win streak into frigid Brandon this weekend (Friday 11:30 a.m., Saturday 5 p.m., Canada West TV) to meet the Bobcats (2-12), it’s essential to note that UBC didn’t just add a blue-chip three-point marksman this past off-season when Clair returned back home from NCAA Div. 1 Seattle University to finish his university career on the Point Grey campus.

Instead, the fourth-year former Burnaby South Rebels star has been all of that and so much more.

A finisher in transition whose straight-line speed might be the best on the team. A heady, aggressive attacking force off the dribble who sits tied for the team lead in free throw attempts per game. And last but not least, on a deep and dangerous squad filled with offensive options, its leading scorer at 19 points per game.

“The more freedom I have to play, the more capable I am of doing a lot more things,” Clair said Wednesday after practice. “Right now, I am feeling very confident in the way I am playing.”

Yet there’s something refreshing about the fact that he won’t protest if you elect to pigeon-hole him as a shooter with deep range.

“I honestly don’t mind,” says Clair, who is coming off of a 30-point outing last Saturday in UBC’s 100-80 win at Trinity Western. “I like hearing it. Shooting is an aspect of scoring, and if I need to shoot (deep) to score, then I will. Whatever my team needs. But I am a scorer, not just a shooter.”

You can count UBC head coach Kevin Hanson among those who wasn’t counting on getting all of the optional accessories that have come standard with the 2018-19 Manroop model.

“The one thing that I have been super surprised with is how quick he actually is, going full speed with that dribble,” said Hanson. “He hadn’t really used it as part of his offensive game, but he can really get up the court. With or without it, he is probably our fastest guy, plus he has the ability to stop on the dime and shoot it.”

Manroop Clair (right) has Brough an under-rated floor game to the fore this season with the UBC Thunderbirds. (Photo by Richard Lam property of UBC athletics 2019. All Rights Reserved)

With all that said, it’s pretty easy to say that after years of searching, Clair has finally found the place where everything he represents as a player can be fully appreciated.

That it has come at home, alongside close friend and fellow NCAA Div. 1 transfer Jadon Cohee, has just made it all the more sweet.

And the numbers that show that change to a more overall game?

By coincidence, in Clair’s most productive NCAA Div. 1 season, 2015-16 at Seattle U, he played in all of the Redhawks’ 14 conference games, the same amount of Canada West games he has played in this season with UBC.

Keep in mind that Clair has played 73 more minutes total with UBC this season than three seasons ago at Seattle. That allows us to compare numbers in something of a vacuum, and they illustrate how much more versatile, effective and efficient he has been in blue-and-gold.

Off the top, Clair’s makes and attempts from beyond the arc this season with UBC (41-of-113, 36.3 per cent) are greater in both volume and success than at Seattle (28-of-84, 35.3 per cent).

Yet the real significance lies in this years numbers inside the arc.

Whereas Clair went just 9-of-19 (47.4 per cent) from inside with the Redhawks, those makes and attempts have been quadrupled and more with UBC this season at 44-of-82 (53.7 per cent).

“At Seattle, it was more of a catch-and-shoot three role,” confirms Clair.

Those 63 additional field goal attempts from inside the arc are the result of his freedom, and his ability to score the basketball in a number of different ways.

And the spin-off?

Always a great free throw shooter, Clair’s added dimension of dribble-drive attack-minded play has given him 61 free throw trips this season versus just 15 at Seattle.

Manroop Clair has been given the most freedom he’s ever had over the course of his university career this season with the UBC Thunderbirds, and it’s resulted in his most impressive campaign thus far. (Photo by Richard Lam property of UBC athletics 2019. All Rights Reserved)

Hanson has two great penetrators with multiple skill-sets already in Cohee and Mason Bourcier, yet adding another more broadly-skilled guard like Clair to the mix brings something a little more unique to the mix, especially if the ‘Birds can break out of their post-season doldrums and make a run outside the conference.

“I think one of the things in last few years as we got into playoffs is that we have been a little too predictable with shooters,” said Hanson when queried about what Clair’s total game can bring. “Manroop gives us more of a dynamic offensive player, and he can create shots versus different guys.”

Hanson also see the value that both Clair and Cohee have brought as worldly fourth-year players on a very young UBC roster.

“At U Sport, you don’t see the kind of Duke and Kentucky stuff,” Hanson said of banner D1 programs whose most talented players aren’t around long enough to establish a prominent level of leadership. “Here, it’s all about the older fourth- and fifth-year guys. It’s what you need to be successful. It’s maturity, but it’s also confidence in the ability to step up in big games.”

In fact Hanson adds that some of the most competitive situations the team has been in this season have been practices when Clair and Cohee are handed opposite colour jerseys.

“The whole environment changes and we bring out the best in each other,” the coach says.

Chalk up another plus for the presence this season of Manroop Clair.

He’ll always be known as a three-point shooter, and he’s good with that. Yet just when his team has needed him most, he’s proven himself to be so much more.

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