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Karim Mané: the great baller of the north

An NBA debut from a Canadian college — and what it means for the country’s teams
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One man who is joining the NBA’s Orlando Magic can carry so much significance in the world of hoops, especially Canadian hoops. I’m talking about Canadian 20-year-old point guard of Senegalese descent, from Québec’s Vanier College, Karim Mané.

You’re probably thinking right now, “Okay, so he’s a draft prospect who’s got some skills. Why is that so significant?”

I’ll tell you why.

The great white north in the NBA 

Mané is the first player in the NBA from Québec’s CEGEP who didn’t have to play in the United States first to do so.

Basketball in Canada has been growing leaps and bounds in recent years, but the NBA’s ‘true north’ stars have often taken the more conventional path to the league through Division I American schools.

The Canadian College Athletics Association (CCAA) is a strange middle ground for developing professional talent. If you’re a star Canadian basketball prospect, then chances are you will get recruited to an American school and play against stronger competition under the greater professional focus of the US’ National Collegiate Athletic Association. 

That puts a hard cap on the kinds of players who want to stay and play for Canadian colleges. Just last year, Ryerson University’s Tanor Ngom was recruited to Florida State University. You can’t blame these guys for wanting to play in America. It’s better for their game and their draft stock.

This means that talented basketball players on the Varsity Blues, for example, are less likely to get noticed by NBA drafters than American players. 

The story of Mané

As a prospect, Mané’s most consistent selling point is his athleticism. In light of COVID-19 travel restrictions, NBA scouts don’t have a ton of film or have firsthand minutes watched of Mané, but the physical tools at least, are undeniable. 

Standing 6’5 with a 6’10 wingspan, Mané tends to the defensive end of the floor with grace and agility, but flips the switch with the ball in his hands and launches himself down the court with ferocity. If you took a friend who’s never watched basketball in their life to a Vanier game and asked them to pick out who they thought the best player was, they would pick Mané — the man just looks like an NBA player.

The physical tools are great, but athleticism isn’t enough to make it in the league. I was curious to learn about what Mané is like mentally: his work ethic, his drive, his personality. In an interview with Vanier College basketball’s head coach, Feras Saaida, I asked about his star player. “It may sound a little cliché, but the one word I would use to describe him off the court is elite… He just presents himself in a different way and takes care of business,” Saaida said. 

Saaida told me that Mané had a four-hour round trip to come to school every day, “but he was still one of the best guys academically on [the] team… He’s super focused; it’s very rare that you’ll see him lose focus.” 

When asked about Mané’s presence on the team, Saaida described a player who comes to win: “Sometimes in the film sessions it would be a conversation between me and him, just because he’s answering every single question… He’s somebody that, in my opinion, whatever he does in life, he will do well because of the person and the man he is.”

At the highest level of basketball, everyone is a great athlete, but it’s the smart and spirited ones who thrive.

That’s why Mané has the potential to be a pivotal player for Canadian college hoops. If he can come into the NBA and hold his own it’ll prove to American scouts that the CCAA has players worth respecting. It raises the credibility of the entire league, which includes our Varsity Blues. 

I truly believe that Mané can have a strong career in the NBA. And if he does, this only means one thing for Canadian university players going forward: the sky’s the limit.