Manek, Brooks Offer Winning Pedigree

We’re less than a week away from the 2022 NBA Draft, but the Pacers aren’t done with their draft prep. The Blue & Gold hosted six more prospects on Friday for their 11th pre-draft workout.

46 prospects have now visited Indiana to audition for the Pacers over the last month, with another six players scheduled to come in on Monday (highlighted by projected lottery pick Shaedon Sharpe).

Friday’s workout featured six players Indiana could potentially consider with their second-round selections, the 31st and 58th overall picks. The two most well-known names in the group were North Carolina forward Brady Manek and Michigan guard Eli Brooks.

Manek was a four-year starter at Oklahoma (he was part of the same freshman class as Trae Young), where he established himself as one of the nation’s best shooting big men. After head coach Lon Kruger retired in 2021, Manek took advantage of the NCAA hardship exemption for student-athletes impacted by COVID-19, electing to transfer to North Carolina for one last season in 2021-22.

Manek’s time in Chapel Hill may have been short, but it’s hard to imagine a more memorable season that didn’t result in a national championship. The Tar Heels were a bubble team entering March after an up-and-down campaign, but they came together over an incredible final month.

First, North Carolina spoiled “Coach K Night,” knocking off archrival Duke in coach Mike Krzyzewski’s final game at Cameron Indoor Stadium on March 5. Manek helped lead the charge, going 5-for-10 from 3-point range and recording a double -double with 20 points and 11 rebounds.

The Tar Heels got into the NCAA Tournament as the eighth seed in the East Region. Manek had 28 points and 11 rebounds in a first-round win over Marquette, then followed that up with 26 points and five boards in an overtime upset of top-seeded Baylor. They made it all the way to the Final Four for a rematch against Duke, the first-ever meeting between the two schools in the tournament. Carolina prevailed again, with Manek tallying 14 points, four rebounds, and three blocks in the victory.

Manek had 13 points, 13 boards, and four blocks in the national title game, but the Heels came up just short, falling to Kansas. Still, Manek’s Tar Heel tenure certainly is one he’ll never forget.

“To be around a really good group of guys, really good coach, really good coaching staff, just really good people,” Manek said of what he’s taken away from the past year. “For us to finally buy in and be a really good team and go where we wanted to go even when people were telling us we couldn’t.”

2022 Draft Workouts: Brady Manek

The 6-9, moppy-haired forward amassed over 2,000 points in college. His best attribute is his shooting. He shot over 38 percent from beyond the arc over his college career, but actually got even more efficient when surrounded by more talent last season at North Carolina, knocking down a career-best 40.3 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc.

Manek said he knows that his shooting is what attracts teams to him, but he’s eager to show that he can do more than just space the floor.

“I’ve been in a lot of big games,” Manek said. “Played in two really big conferences. I’ve been to the tournament every year, got to go the national championship. Just playing in big games, guarding really good players (and) playing with a lot of good players as well.”

Manek is realistic about his prospects at the next level. He’ll turn 24 before next fall and knows that he isn’t likely to hear his name called in the first round next week. Still, he believes he can be a real asset to whatever team takes a chance on him.

“I don’t see myself being an All-Star, but I want to help the All-Star,” he said.
“I want to be a guy that can affect the game just because of my ability on the floor.

“I have really good shooting ability. People honor me as a shooter. And I help the team as well – move the ball, move without the ball, just to get in really good position and help the team win.”

Brooks did a lot of winning as well over his five years at Michigan. He exited college with 124 wins, the most in school history, and helped the Wolverines reach at least the Sweet Sixteen in all four years there was an NCAA Tournament (the 2020 tournament was canceled due to the pandemic), including the national championship game his freshman year.

The 6-1 guard was a role player in his first two seasons, averaging under three points per game off the bench both years. But he took on a larger role over his final three seasons on campus and was named a team captain for his final two years.

Brooks averaged a career-best 12.8 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 2.9 assists last season while shooting 39.4 percent from 3-point range. Some of his strongest performances came in the NCAA Tournament at Gainbridge Fieldhouse, where he tallied 16 points, seven rebounds, six assists, and two steals in a first-round win over Colorado State and followed that up with a season-high 23 points and five assists in a second-round upset of Tennessee.

“Reliable,” Brooks said of what he can bring to a team. “I feel like that’s something that I’ve always been throughout my career. And I just find a way to win.”

2022 Draft Workouts: Eli Brooks

Brooks may not have eye-popping athleticism, but his winning pedigree could be enough to convince a team he’s worthy of a backup guard spot. He pointed out that he is already very familiar with NBA concepts and terminology from playing under Michigan coach Juwan Howard, who returned to his alma mater after six years as an assistant coach with the Miami Heat.

Brooks also credited the experience of playing at Michigan with preparing him for the next level.

“Just playing on a big stage,” Brooks said. “Every single game’s televised and you’re going against the best competition. I think the Big Ten’s the basketball league. Being able to play against great teams, great competition every single day in and day out has really prepared me.”

Williams, Rhoden Getting Noticed

Only two of the six prospects who worked out for the Pacers on Friday were invited to the NBA Draft Combine and both of them – Texas Tech forward Bryson Williams and Seton Hall wing Jared Rhoden – had to earn their invitations the hard way.

Williams and Rhoden were among 44 prospects invited to take part in the G League Elite Camp just prior to the combine in May. At the conclusion of that event, scouts vote on which players they believe are most worthy of earning an invite to the combine. Williams and Rhoden were two of seven prospects to receive that honor this season.

The 6-9 Williams said he felt he earned the invitation thanks to his high motor and “hard-core mentality” on the defensive end, which has been his primary focus over the pre-draft process.

Williams spent two seasons at Fresno State and two more at UTEP before transferring to Texas Tech for his final year of eligibility. He thrived even with the jump up in competition, leading the Red Raiders in scoring at 14.1 points per game and being named to the All-Big 12 first team.

But Williams said his game grew the most on the defensive end during his time in Lubbock.

2022 Draft Workouts: Bryson Williams

“Going to Texas Tech, that’s the whole reason I went there was to become a better defender,” he said. “With the switching defense and having Coach (Mark) Adams as my head coach, it helped me a lot (with) becoming a better defender overall.”

Williams said he has the versatility to guard every position and bother the opposition with his nearly 7-3 wingspan.

On the other side of the floor, Williams made significant strides as a shooter over his time in college. He attempted just four 3-pointers over his two seasons at Fresno State, but gradually added the shot to his repertoire. Williams said he fine-tuned his mechanics and made a habit of getting up 1,000 shots a day. The hard work paid off as he knocked down 40 of 96 attempts (41.7 percent) last season at Texas Tech.

Rhoden spent the entirety of his four-year college career at Seton Hall. The 6-6 wing averaged 15.5 points and 6.7 rebounds last season, earning first-team All-Big East honors.

Like Williams, Rhoden is focused on showing his versatility on the defensive end. He said the pre-draft process has been “a long journey,” but believes his approach has allowed him to be successful at turning heads.

2022 Draft Workouts: Jared Rhoden

“Just being resilient,” Rhoden said. “I think that’s the biggest thing for me. Just taking steps incrementally forward. I started off at the Portsmouth Invitational, made my way and just kept pushing forward and forward.

“I think it’s just about continuing to work hard and be resilient, believe in yourself. That’s all that I’ve been doing during this process is betting on myself and knowing that I’m capable.”

Horne, Russell Offer Experience, Scoring Punch

The final two prospects at Friday’s workout were Tulsa forward Jeriah Horne and Maryland guard Fatts Russell.

Even in the modern landscape of college basketball, where transferring is commonplace, Horne had a unique college experience. He began his career at Nebraska, then transferred to Tulsa after his freshman season. He sat out a year and then played two seasons for the Golden Hurricane before transferring to Colorado for 2020-21.

Horne averaged 10.8 points and 5.8 rebounds in his lone season at Boulder, but then elected to transfer once more. In a rare move, Horne transferred back to Tulsa for one last season.

The 6-7 Horne had a memorable final year in college, averaging a career-best 16.1 points and 6.9 rebounds per game while shooting 41.5 percent from 3-point range. In his final home game, Horne provided an all-time highlight when he drained a halfcourt shot at the buzzer to beat UCF.

2022 Draft Workouts: Jeriah Horne

“That’s something I had on my whiteboard, that I would hit a game-winner,” Horne said. “Did I know it was going to come on Senior Night, the last time I’d be in the Reynolds Center? I didn’t, but it was awesome. I had a great experience there and it was a great way to finish my career.”

Horne’s shooting is most likely his best chance of sticking on a roster in the NBA, though he said he also believes he can defend four positions and “do whatever it takes to win.”

Russell amassed over 2,000 career points over four seasons at Rhode Island and one at Maryland. Nicknamed “Fatts” by his mother because he was a chubby baby, he is actually one of the smallest players in this year’s draft class, listed at just 5-11 and 165 pounds.

Despite his diminutive structure, Russell put up big numbers in college in both the Atlantic 10 and the Big Ten. He averaged 15.1 points, 4.1 rebounds, 3.7 assists, and 1.3 steals last season at Maryland.

Russell acknowledged that he will likely have a different role at the next level, so he’s hoping to differentiate himself with his energy and effort level. He cited three smaller guards in Minnesota’s Jordan McLaughlin, New Orleans’ Jose Alvarado, and Denver’s Facundo Campazzo as players he would like to emulate.

“They’re getting first of all a great person,” Russell said when asked what he would tell a team considering drafting him. “A great locker room guy, a great leader. And then just a guy that’s going to compete at every end of the floor, always, 100 percent of the time.”

2022 Draft Workouts: Fatts Russell

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