Final Blog

Isaiah Manning, Staff Writer

As we approach the end of the school year, and for me the end of high school experience, most seniors anticipate their last summer under their current roof as they prepare for college, and inevitably independent life. For me, I’ll be jumping into that step June 1. As a TCU athlete, I have orientation June 1 and 2, and summer workouts starting the third. Because of this, my “summer break” won’t be until late July and will only last about two weeks. Most people would probably hate this, but in actuality, I couldn’t be more excited to enter this next stage in my life.

Ever since I was in fourth grade, I’ve had my mind set on being a great basketball player. At that time, I began the long process of prioritizing basketball over baseball, despite the words of my mother and many other people who insisted I was making the wrong decision by cutting off my baseball career. But even though Mom didn’t like my decision, her and my dad gave me more support throughout my journey than I ever could have asked for.

In that fourth grade year, I began playing AAU basketball, and I had no clue how central it would be from that point in my life until the start of my senior year. My parents were paying thousands of dollars a year to send me on trips around the country to play the game I love, and didn’t complain about it once. It wasn’t until around eighth grade that I became good enough to play for sponsored teams where my parents didn’t have to pay, and even then they’ve been paying for their own travel in order to be able to watch and support regardless of where the team is playing. But once I got on these sponsored teams, my basketball career, and a good portion of my young life changed for the better.

My first sponsored team was called Crab5. Sponsored by former NFL Pro-Bowl Wide Receiver, Michael Crabtree, we were able to get free Jordan brand gear and a team van to all of our tournaments. As just a freshman in high school with much improvement to make, my Coach JWalk was able to show me off to college coaches and help me get my first offer from UTA around the end of my freshman year. Then everything that was starting to become easy about basketball quickly became hard when the COVID-19 outbreak happened.

As soon as quarantine started, basketball was put on hold all around the country. There were no AAU games for almost the entire summer, and when there were games many players were sick and not present or inevitably, sick and still playing. Trying to work out and get better while fearing for your health was a hard battle to fight, and I found myself sometimes playing with a mask on for fear of getting myself, and my loved ones sick. My recruitment stopped, and I only played in one tournament the entire summer.

On top of that, the COVID outbreak caused a snowball effect in the classroom as well. My entire life I’ve been one of the more academically talented students, mostly achieving straight A’s or A-B Honor Roll every year. During the quarantine, I was sent to online school where many of my good learning habits were lost, inevitably causing my grades to slip. I went from achieving straight A’s my entire freshman year, to struggling to make even B’s in math and science. But in school and on the court, I wasn’t content.

Once again, my parents did everything in their power to help me be as successful as I was willing to be. They created an amazing learning environment within our house, and bought me a MacBook laptop to help me be more efficient with my work. On top of that, they bought a weight rack for the house, free weights, and turned our backyard basketball court into the best private gym I could have, which helped me make leaps as a player in a time where most people were very stagnant. Besides these purchases, they pushed me to look within myself for motivation, and made sure that my eating habits and rehabilitative efforts were on par with the regularity in which I was working out. I would work out for hours everyday, on the court and lifting weights in the garage, and there was a transformation that happened for me with my body and in my skill set. When sophomore season came around, I went from one of the last players on the bench as a freshman, to the leading scorer on the season as a sophomore.

When this season ended, I got one more offer from Troy, a small school in Alabama. I was extremely grateful to be blessed with these opportunities, but a little bit disappointed that I wasn’t drawing attention from bigger schools. This summer, however, I had the TABC Showcase, the biggest recruiting event in the state of Texas, and an AAU Season with one of the top teams in the country to show these bigger schools that I was able to play at that level.

And that’s exactly what I did. At the TABC Showcase, I used the opportunity to play in front of coaches from those bigger schools to the best of my ability, and got scholarship offers from TCU, ORU, St. Louis, and Texas A&M on the strength of this performance. During the rest of my summer, I played AAU with Drive Nation, one of the top Nike sponsored teams in the country. With many great players around me, it was a journey to finding my role on the team. My parents supported me as always and I was able to become a starter and one of the leading scorers on a team with many top college prospects. At the end of the summer, we made the national championship game and lost in triple overtime, solidifying our strength as one of the top programs. In this success, I was able to get additional scholarship offers from Oklahoma State, Jackson State, and Rice, and I went on my first set of unofficial visits, to OSU, A&M, UTA, Rice, and TCU.

With many options already as just a junior, it was easy to be satisfied. My name around DFW was starting to grow, and that early celebrity feeling was there. But my parents helped me remain humble and hungry, and often let me know that although they were loving my success, I wasn’t anywhere near where I needed to be if I wanted to make my dreams a reality. On top of that, my sophomore year grades were alright, but weren’t nearly as good as they needed to be if I wanted the opportunity to play basketball at some of the best academic universities in the country. The ability was there, and I had a decision to make about whether I was going to become a basic athlete with no academic pride, or the well-rounded individual my parents, and everyone else around me knew I was capable of being.

My junior year started, and my focus for the year was just to continue to build and avoid complacency, in all aspects of my life. My grades were back up, I was once again on the honor roll, and I even made a 4 on my AP English Exam, which would net me college credit at many of the top universities around the nation. When basketball season came around, I continued to build on my high school basketball campaign, leading the team in scoring once again and to the third round of the playoffs. When our season came to end, however, I felt like I was to blame for us not getting the win. Shooting one of my most inefficient games of the year, I knew there was more to build on. Hungry and ready to prove myself in AAU again, I had to decide if I wanted to return to Drive Nation.

Although we were a great team, with all of the players on Drive Nation I felt that I wasn’t fully able to shine through all of my talents with the pieces around me. With nothing but love for the program, I left and joined Southern Assault, where I felt they would help me take another jump in my game, and I was right. I was able to transform my identity as a basketball player thanks to the many amazing coaches working with the program. Coach Von worked on my college recruitment, and I gained another set of offers from Kansas State, Xavier, and Eastern Carolina, as well as offers from Harvard and Columbia thanks to my GPA and overall academic success. My parents were once again extremely proud and supportive and my mother found every opportunity she could to brag to her friends that her son could go to Harvard. I went on official visits to TCU and Columbia, and narrowed down my list to 6 schools. I thought this would make my college decision-process easier, but it was actually the opposite. Immediately after announcing that I was narrowing down my options to Kansas State, Xavier, TCU, Columbia, Harvard, and Oklahoma State, we had the TABC Showcase once again.

This year at the showcase, I knew that I had already narrowed down my options, but I wanted to make a statement. As the leader and central option of the team I set out each game to dominate the opponents and show off all that I was capable of, while also showing off my teammates, knowing that they needed to be recruited more than me. This turned out to be the best option for me anyway as coaches from Alabama, SMU, Arizona State, Virginia, Wake Forest, and many others were impressed with my ability to score and create for others and extended new opportunities to me. Ecstatic to be given the opportunity to play for many of the top teams in the country, I was completely lost in terms of knowing where I wanted to go to college. But this changed soon enough, when I announced my commitment to TCU. Although these other programs were tempting, TCU’s staff had maintained faith in me for three years to this point, and they were entering the upcoming season as the #12 team in the nation.

As soon as I signed, I felt a weight lift off my shoulders like nothing I’ve ever felt before. With both of my parents right next to me, we together achieved an accomplishment I had dreamed of since elementary school. I couldn’t thank them enough for being there for me, and continuing to support me to this day. After signing, we had an amazing practice and I thought the day couldn’t get any better. And it didn’t, it actually got worse, much worse. 

In our pre-season game that evening, we started the game off great, beating South Hills by 20 points within the first few minutes of the game. I got an early dunk, and then an inbounds steal and another dunk, when my entire season, and basketball career, changed again. One of their players ran underneath me as I was coming down on the dunk and all the power in my jump feel directly on my ankle, as I suffered a hindfoot subtalar dislocation. This injury sidelined me for almost the entire year and when I came back, I wasn’t able to jump off my right foot or even run with any decent sort of ability. But I had no plans on being done.

My parents supported me tremendously once again, and from this time on, Ms. Kassey, the athletic trainer at Legacy, joined them as one of the people who supports me most in life. In addition to the effort and focus it takes to rehab physically, I also had to rehab mentally. With basketball being one of the central focuses of my life, it was hard to stay true to myself as a student, or even as an individual. Once again, my grades slipped, and my daily motivation to be great that had never wavered throughout life was being tested. But after many hours in the training room having nothing but time to take a deep self-evaluation, I realized that this was just another bump in the road to success. Ms. Kassey helped me rehab everyday, giving me stretches, exercises, and treatments that would get me back on the court as quickly and safely as possible. After many hours in the training room, I came back, with ankle braces and tape on, and it took a while, but I eventually got back into the swing of things. With the team having gained an entirely new identity in the time I spent off the court, the flow wasn’t great at first, but we were able to get things together and make it to the fourth round in the playoffs for the first time since I’ve been in high school. I was very proud of the guys and sad that my high school career was coming to an end, but happy that I was going to soon move on to the next step in my life, college basketball. But first, I had to finish high school.

And here I am now, enjoying my last few weeks here at Legacy, trying to make sure I talk to everyone that I should’ve been talking to for years. But I have no regrets. I had fun in school, my grades were alright, though they could have been better, and I accomplished the things I wanted to without sacrificing any of my central values. I just went to prom last Saturday and had an amazing time, and stayed safe despite the many ways it would have been easy not to. Life is great and full of new opportunities, and I am continuing to learn what it means to be me as I grow up in this world, thanks to my parents and the many other amazing people around me.

Now that graduation comes near, this will probably be my last story on The Rider Online, and as I don’t do as great a job putting out work as I probably should, so thanks to any and everyone that has taken the time to read the things I’ve written as I worked for this newspaper. I love the staff and everyone involved, and I hope I can continue to publish writing as I move into the next stage of my life.