Thursday, January 17, 2008

Manning Feature

In Choosing Chantilly, Manning Goes Public
By B.J. Koubaroulis
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, January 18, 2008; E07

Chantilly High School freshman John Manning says he is 6 feet 10 "barefoot." "I get another inch with my shoes on," Manning adds.

He's 200 pounds with a
wingspan of 7 feet. And he's just 15.

"It's not out of the question to think he is going to finish up at 7-foot or taller," said Alex Harris, Manning's trainer since the fifth grade. "I'd be shocked if he was done growing."

On a basketball landscape where a 6-10 freshman could play at just about any private program of his choosing, for coaches who specialize in turning promising athletes into college prospects, perhaps the most surprising thing about Manning is that he has landed at Chantilly -- and seems to have no intention of leaving the Northern Virginia public school.

"All my friends go here," said Manning, who has been playing spring and fall league basketball with Chantilly's junior varsity team since he was a seventh grader. He also grew up playing basketball with the Chantilly Youth Association.

"He's well-connected in the local community," said Harris, a former American University player who stands 6-9 and works as a trainer with Lessons Learned, a youth basketball instruction program in Northern Virginia. "When you are a 6-10 freshman, you don't have trouble getting known, no matter where you are."

Manning, who leads Chantilly (12-1, 4-1) into tonight's key Concorde District matchup with No. 12 Westfield (12-1, 4-0) averaging 11 points, 6.6 rebounds, 3.1 blocks and 1.4 steals per game, has been fielding offers from private school powers since he was a 6-6 sixth grader.

"Somebody called my dad from Massachusetts and said, 'Why don't you come to this boarding school? '" said Manning, who has already taken unofficial college visits to Georgetown and Virginia.

Manning considered top-ranked Washington Catholic Athletic Conference power Gonzaga just before the start of the school year, but decided the commute to Northwest Washington each day was too much.

"We looked at most of the WCAC schools," said Manning's father, Doug. "We really felt that he could get everything at Chantilly that he could get there and it could save him three hours a day [commuting] to be a kid. We hope that he can grow up as part of the community."

The decision to stay at Chantilly with a core of neighborhood friends and with Coach Jim Smith, who has been tutoring the young giant at offseason camps since he was an awkward 5-8 9-year-old is "pretty much done," Manning said.

"He thought this was the best place to come even in sixth grade because he knew people were trying to get me," Manning said of Smith, who has posted a 322-169 record and won four district titles in 17 seasons at Chantilly. "Even when I wasn't too good, when I was little, he was still nice."

Described by his teammates as quiet, Manning also prefers the low-pressure atmosphere at Chantilly.

"Those players that are there, like at Gonzaga or at O'Connell, half their team is going somewhere. There's pressure with that," Manning said. "[At Chantilly] it's still hard, but it just feels more comfortable. It's a little more relaxed."

The low-pressure environment is intentional.

"I don't want to add too much pressure to him right now," Smith said. "I just want him to play and learn and give him opportunities to grow without throwing too much at him too fast."

So far Manning has managed the learning curve. He has shown he can handle himself around the basket and has already begun developing a medium-range jump shot. Few of his skills have escaped the notice of college recruiters.

"I've got just about every ACC school calling me before he's even played a minute of high school basketball," Smith said. "Over the years, you get a lot of guys that come into high school with a lot of hype. . . . I've never had a player as good as John, and as humble as John be as receptive to coaching. I think right there that gives him a chance to be special."

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