Nico Mannion is to the Arizona Wildcats what Stephen Curry is to the Golden State Warriors when it comes to star status with aspiring players, especially those who are younger than him and trying to take a similar path to college and potentially the professional ranks.
And Mannion — respectfully called “my guy” or “my boy” by some Arizona recruiting targets — has not even played a minute for Sean Miller and the Wildcats. The sensation from Phoenix Pinnacle starts his freshman season at Arizona in less than five months. Many are counting the days.
Thinking back, similar players with such pull at Arizona were Damon Stoudamire and Mike Bibby. Younger players wanted to be just like them.
When Mannion’s name came up during the recent Section 7 Team Camp event in Phoenix, high school prospects perked up, smiled and took satisfaction of knowing him or having experienced the opportunity to play against him.
“They’re getting a great player, a real smart PG (point guard), a knockdown shooter PG … he’s just so smart, he makes the right plays, he makes his team better,” Class of 2021 combo guard prospect Devin Askew of Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei said of Mannion.
“That’s my guy. I have a lot of respect for him.”
Askew is one of the Arizona targets who participated in the Section 7 event, which was attended by Miller and his staff. Askew played against Mannion last season and things got chippy, but that was because of their competitive nature. They share a mutual respect.
Another couple of prospects on Arizona’s radar who played in the event were Henderson (Nev.) Coronado High School teammates Jaden Hardy and Richard Isaacs Jr. Hardy is a Class of 2021 combo guard and Isaacs is a Class of 2022 point guard.
Isaacs still has three years in high school, but he is mature beyond his years having played a few years in travel ball and also with the gold medal-winning Team USA 16U team recently in Brazil.
When I asked him about his thoughts about Arizona, Isaacs answered with Mannion in mind.
“I like Arizona a lot. I’m going to watch them a lot this year to see how they play Nico Mannion,” Isaacs said. “I figure how they play him is how similar they will play me so that’s what I’m looking for at Arizona.
“I really like Arizona. I like Coach Miller a lot.”
Mannion, a McDonald’s All-American along with fellow Wildcat freshman Josh Green, is the No. 1 rated point guard in the nation for the Class of 2019. Mannion averaged 23.4 points and 5.8 assists per game while leading Pinnacle to a state title.
An explosive talent at 6-foot-3 and 180 pounds, Mannion is already forecast as an NBA lottery pick next year — No. 7 overall — by ESPN draft expert Jonathan Givony.
Another Class of 2022 point guard prospect Skyy Clark of Los Angeles Heritage Christian is being recruited by Miller and his staff. Clark brought up Mannion’s name, unprovoked like Isaacs, when discussing his recruitment by Arizona.
6-3, 180 pound + 18-year-old incoming #Arizona freshman lead guard prospect Nico Mannion impressed scouts at the 2019 @nikehoopsummit in #Portland this spring. He is 7th off the board in our updated 2020 mock #nbadraft heading into the summer >> https://t.co/gYLuORSwcs pic.twitter.com/R67Rxzm6Ax
“When my dad told me Arizona offered me, I didn’t know what to say. I was so happy,” Clark said. “Arizona has been one of my favorites ever since I started playing basketball. And my boy Nico Mannion is going to go there too, so I know they develop great point guards.
“Coach Sean Miller does a great job with point guards.”
When asked what it means to young point guards like him that Mannion is going to Arizona, Clark said, “A point guard like Nico going to Arizona that’s big time because in my opinion I thought he was the No. 1 point guard in that class. … He’s different. There’s something about his game. He’s unstoppable.”
Los Angeles Heritage Christian Class of 2022 point guard Skyy Clark talks about his scholarship offer from Arizona, his social media following "blowing up," and his respect for incoming Wildcat point guard Nico Mannion. pic.twitter.com/KBvJMtpUhs
Askew is two years from graduating from Mater Dei and Clark and Isaacs have another three years, which creates the question of who can step in next season at the point after Mannion likely leaves to the NBA?
Miller observed Class of 2020 five-star point guard Daishen Nix of Las Vegas Trinity Christian in Phoenix. Miller has offered Nix and St. Louis Christian Brothers senior point guard Caleb Love a scholarship.
If Brandon Williams remains with the program past next season, he could possibly handle the point as a junior.
The position is obviously a potential great need in 2020-21.
But first things first, Arizona will appreciate what it has in Mannion this upcoming season. The impact of “The Red Mamba” — as he is called because of his red hair — on the Wildcats’ program has already started.
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.