July 18, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON - You probably shouldn't tell Tamron Manning what some Marshall Basketball fans might be thinking ... that the Herd's significant men's roster turnover after a 13-19 season means improvement doesn't seem likely.
After all, speaking of improvement, Manning turned in the unusual as a freshman last season.
He was selected by MU coaches for the team's Leo Byrd Most Improved Player Award. A freshman isn't likely to get such an honor. Don't you have to be part of a team the year before to be "most improved?"
Manning considered that notion and laughed.
"It was kind of weird, I guess, because it was my first year here," the 6-foot-4 combo guard from Georgetown, Ky., said before a Herd summer practice earlier this week. "But I was happy and proud to accept the award.
"I knew the work I put in, and I guess they looked at what I was able to do from the start of practice to the end of the season."
He's been putting in the same kind of effort in the offseason, getting stronger (including a gain of 8 pounds to 208), working on his shooting and ball handling, and getting the opportunity to play for a collegiate travel team from SCORE International in the Dominican Republic.
There are six newcomers for Coach Tom Herrion's fourth MU team, with perhaps another name or two to come. Manning played 307 minutes in 28 games (five starts) and next to lone returning starting forward Elijah Pittman's 16.1 points and 32.2 minutes), Manning's 1.3 and 11.0 are the top returning averages.
The former Scott County High star figures to be one of the more significant Herd contributors in 2013-14, at both guard spots. His minutes as a rookie last season surprised him, but now, they'll only help.
Manning gained more of an opportunity when incoming point guard Kareem Canty's initial eligibility was denied by the NCAA at the 11th hour.
"I never would have figured I'd be No. 2 in minutes played (among returnees)," Manning said. "At the beginning last season, I didn't figure I'd play that much, but once we got into (preseason) practice I saw I was going to get a chance to play and that was encouraging.
"I didn't figure I'd be redshirted. I thought I'd play some but not a whole lot, not as much as I did. And I didn't expect to come in and play the point, period. I played some there in high school, kind of by default because there you can end up playing all five positions. It was kind of doing everything."
Herrion said Manning was considered for a redshirt early on among discussion within the Herd staff, but "it never reached the point where we talked with Tamron and his family about it. And with the Kareem situation, it wasn't possible.
"Fortunately for him and us, he's got that experience now. We'll gain some benefits from that."
Manning was "kind of thrown to the wolves," Herrion said, in a mid-December loss to Cincinnati, in which he played 30 minutes and struggled against the Bearcats' fullcourt pressure. He settled into a reliable relief role and in the Henderson Center finale had his best game with 12 points and four assists in 18 minutes.
He also was the team's best free throw shooter (17-of-20), all of which came in Conference USA play. Now, Herrion said Manning will play multiple roles on a team that's had a makeover in versatility.
"Playing as much as I did last season, I think it helps us maybe more as a team than me individually, because now we have another guy on the floor with experience in (Division I basketball)," Manning said. "If I didn't play much last year, we'd be pretty much a whole new team entirely, except for Elijah, so it helps us.
"And it helps me because now I know what to do at certain times, in certain situations. It helps my confidence and I've grown as a player.
"Coach has talked about Kareem and me playing together, him on, me off the ball, but I can't see me not playing the point at least some. He's the only true point guard on the team, so we're going to need someone else there."
Herrion knows Manning isn't the 25 percent marksman he was last season, when the freshman early wasn't called on to score - and then became reluctant to pull the trigger because the ball wasn't going in the basket.
Manning is excited about the revamped roster, too. He calls the Herd "closer-knit, probably better chemistry," and he likes the plan to play a more uptempo style with increased defensive pressure and an attack-the-basket mentality.
"The most valuable thing I learned last season is anybody can beat you on any day," Manning said. "Everybody is on the same level athletically, so you've got to be ready, more mentally focused. I think it's more of a mental game than a physical game because athletically, it's so even most of the time."
Manning could even be a candidate to repeat for that Leo Byrd Improved honor again, too.
"Tamron is like a lot of our guys - multiple position players," the Herd coach said. "Physically he's stronger; we challenged him to change his body, to improve his athletic ability. He'll be a much more consistent perimeter shooter, way better shooter than that (2012-13) percentage. I think you'll see significant improvement in that.
"He played in big games for us and he got better and better. When we recruited Tamron, we knew he was a talented player, and nothing he did showed anything otherwise. He worked hard, and we know he'll continue to improve.
"What he did last season will help us this season."