Hoops notebook: Newcomer Valdir Manuel looks to forge new identity with Lobos - Albuquerque Journal

Hoops notebook: Newcomer Valdir Manuel looks to forge new identity with Lobos

The wait to start the New Mexico Lobos men’s basketball season this Sunday at Rice has been long enough for most of the players.

For 6-foot-10 junior college transfer Valdir Manuel, getting on the team’s flight to Houston on Friday afternoon was a long time coming. The coronavirus shutdown since March and his being sidelined since December 2019 with a broken wrist were only small parts of the story.

“Right now I’m close to 100% (health wise) and I’m working hard,” Manuel said. “The coaches trust in me, and I’m looking forward to showing everybody who I am. …

“My journey has been really hard. I’ve been through some … tough times in my life. And I’m just wanting to play college basketball.”

Manuel spent the past two seasons at Harcum (Junior) College in Pennsylvania and, despite playing just a season and a half, still left as the program’s 12th all-time leading scorer. He was third in rebounds, first in blocked shots for a career and a junior college All-American in 2019. He has been a highly sought-after prospect since he came to the United States from Angola at the age of 16.

But he’ll tell you that after committing at one point or another to five major Division I programs, he is known in college basketball circles for the teams he didn’t play for as much as the team he’s now with. He is eager to prove that is not an indication he can’t play or has any problems that may have scared teams away.

“My reputation, everybody knows when they see my name, ‘Oh, this kid committed to (a lot of) schools, but people (do) not understand I committed to (a lot of) schools because I was just trying to play college basketball,” Manuel said. “And I didn’t have the people who had the best interest in me around me. I was feeling like people was benefiting off me – they were making me do stuff that wasn’t really me doing. So it was very hard and I couldn’t say nothing because I was a kid and my parents, nobody was here.”

Manuel feels he managed to land in a “great spot” playing for Paul Weir at UNM and especially credits his connection with Lobos assistant coach Dan McHale for making him a Lobo, but more importantly taking the time to help him with much more than just basketball.

“Since I’ve been with Dan, I become a better man,” Manuel said. “And I’m, I’m in a better place right now.”

As for on the court, new Lobos assistant Scott Padgett, in charge of the Lobo big men, has helped Manuel develop in the post, and battling regularly with fellow big man Bayron Matos in practice, Manuel says, has been amazing – “Man, dude is strong.”

Those two – Manuel and Matos – will be counted on to be a 1-2 punch at the “5” for the Lobos that not many teams in the Mountain West will be able to match. Weir notes they can also play at the same time, sliding Manuel over to the “4.” He’s played forward his whole career so far and can hit the 3-point shot to stretch defenses when needed.

As for Manuel, he doesn’t care where he plays. He’s more than ready, finally, to get on the court with the rest of the new-look Lobos roster.

“We got a bunch of dudes who’ve got something to prove,” Manuel said.

THE LAKE SHOW: As part of its contract to play Rice in Houston on Sunday, UNM was giving two opportunities to “host” games on Tuesday and Thursday in Rice’s Tudor Fieldhouse, where Sunday’s game will be played.

Friday, UNM announced it will play Tuesday against Our Lady of the Lake, an NAIA team that has already played three Division I opponents, including Rice (Rice won 103-64).

ON THE AIR: The Mountain West on Friday announced each of UNM’s first four league games will be broadcast by one of the league’s two television partners – CBS Sports Network and Fox Sports:

• Dec. 21 at Boise State on FS1 (game time was changed to 7:30 p.m.)

• Dec. 23 at Boise State on CBS Sports Network (8 p.m.)

• Dec. 31 vs. Nevada on FS1 (game time TBD)

• Jan. 2 vs. Nevada on CBS Sports Network (game time TBD)

Due to New Mexico’s public health order, games aren’t allowed in the state, so the Lobos plan to “host” conference games at Lubbock Christian University.

Like everything else in this season, however, that is “subject to change, of course,” one UNM athletics administrator texted to the Journal on Friday.

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