A tale of two seasons

Guard Kendal Manuel dishing out a pass in the first meeting against rival University of Oregon earlier this season. Manuel has 47 assists this season. 

Josh Worden, Senior Beat Reporter

Ronnie Stacy streaked up the sideline, looking back for a pass from his teammate after he crossed half court.

Stacy was scrimmaging with his teammates this summer in Oregon State’s practice facility.

As the junior guard caught the ball, sophomore forward Drew Eubanks flew by in the opposite direction while playing defense, almost tipping the pass away while narrowly avoiding a collision with Stacy.

Kendal Manuel and Tres Tinkle cringed.

“Tres and I just look at each other like, ‘Oh, gosh,’” Manuel said. “Because we were thinking about the same thing: the injury that happened.”

Manuel, a redshirt freshman guard on OSU’s men’s basketball team, broke his leg in October 2015 in the same situation on the same court, in nearly the same spot. It was Oct. 13, 2015 when he caught a pass from Gary Payton II during practice and Eubanks sprang in to steal the ball. On that occasion, the collision was unavoidable.

Manuel broke his right fibula and partially tore his lateral cruciate ligament and the meniscus in his knee. On top of that, he tore a hamstring muscle as well.

“It was more of a crunch. All my weight was on it, and then all of a sudden, ‘boom,’” Manuel said. “I definitely thought I was done career-wise just because of all the stuff I heard pop.”

Nine days later, he was in surgery. Thirteen months later, in November 2016, he finally made his collegiate debut.

After redshirting last season, Manuel is nearly done with his first year of actually playing for the Beavers. He’s averaging 7.7 points per game this season and he’s in the top three on the team in 3-pointers (49), 3-point percentage (38.9), steals (27) and assists (47).

Looking back on his nearly two full seasons in Corvallis, Manuel feels he’s lived two different stories in each year. Both were mixed bags for different reasons. In 2015, the Beavers went 19-13 and made their first NCAA tournament since 1990, but Manuel had to watch it all unfold from the sidelines. This year has been the opposite: Manuel has stayed healthy while his teammates have dropped off one-by-one due to injury. The Beavers are 1-16 in the Pac-12 with a 5-25 overall record that’s one of the worst in OSU’s history.

“Last year, (the lesson) was that everything is not handed to you,” Manuel said. “You’re not going to have everything guaranteed. And this year, it was that you have to deal with adversity and keep things in perspective.”

In a sense, Manuel learned the same lesson twice, just from a different angle. In 2015 he lost basketball for a whole season; in 2016 his team lost game after game for most of the season. But both years had positives, whether it was OSU’s team success last year or Manuel’s personal return to the court this year.

“Both of them honestly have been good experiences,” Manuel said. “I’ve learned a lot through both processes. I wouldn’t really say one was more fun than the other.”

Manuel’s teammates have missed a combined 64 games this year due to injury, 30 of those coming from two teammates he arrived at OSU with: Tinkle and Stephen Thompson, Jr. Last year, Manuel turned to redshirt senior Daniel Gomis for advice, since Gomis had been through the gamut already by enduring two broken legs, a broken hand, a broken nose and more in five years in Corvallis. Having missed all 32 games last year, Manuel has been able to fill a Gomis-like role for Tinkle and other teammates.

“They’ve asked me what’s happened through the process, and I try to keep them level-headed and keep them motivated, so no one is getting down about their situation,” Manuel said.

It was a two-way street, in fact. Before Manuel got to impart his experiences on his teammates, they supported him during his recovery.

“All of us freshmen were living in the same suite,” Manuel said. “So I relied on them and then Daniel Gomis as well. If I needed anything, they were there for me. If I needed to go to the store, they were there to pick me up. That was a big help having those guys support me.”

Manuel also learned from former Beaver Bill McShane, who started his OSU basketball career in 1977 and also missed time due to injuries. McShane pointed out to Manuel that watching from the sidelines could allow the freshman to observe the offense more thoroughly and analyze the game in a way he couldn’t if he was actually playing.

“I feel like after that, my basketball IQ got better because I was able to watch instead of just going through everything,” Manuel said. “In a way, I’m glad it happened. It helped me grow as a person.

“It makes you a better person just because you wake up and you’re like, ‘I can’t do what I love to do every day.’ Going through that makes you think, ‘Hey, I got to push through this and get better.’”

The fortitude that Manuel built up last year comes into play when he’s actually on the court. A turnover or missed shot can cause a player’s mental focus to break, but what’s one mistake compared to losing an entire year of basketball?

“He’s resilient — when he has a bad play or something he doesn’t get down, he just keeps playing hard,” Freshman guard JaQuori McLaughlin said. “He’s a really good teammate on and off the court. There was one game he had a turnover, he was down a little bit, but he picked himself back up and knocked down a big shot after that.”

“It’s been nice to see Kendal,” added head coach Wayne Tinkle. “We knew he was a shot maker and he’s worked hard to get better defensively.”

A gruesome injury like Manuel’s can be difficult to come back from, both physically and mentally. With his leg strength depleted after months of little or no exercise, the rehab process was lengthy.

“In a brace, everything atrophies. Your muscles get smaller, so the big thing was to get my quad back to how the other one looks,” Manuel said. ”So I was sitting there doing leg raises, pulling my leg closer with a towel. It seems like basic stuff, but once you’re in that process, you’re like, ‘Oh my, this is way harder than I thought.’”

Manuel still isn’t back to where he once was physically, but the difference is small.

“I’m close,” Manuel said. “I’m not quite where I was with my right leg yet. But I’m close and I’ve been working on it to get more explosive. I’m still able to be above the rim and jump, I’m just not quite there yet.”

To return to the court, Manuel had to do more than just rebuild muscle strength and repair ligaments, he also had to rebuild his confidence. Every time OSU plays at its practice facility, Manuel has to return to the place he hurt his leg so badly he thought his career was finished. Mostly, Manuel says, he’s been able to handle it well. Occasionally it gets tougher, like on the one-year anniversary of his injury when OSU practiced at the facility.

“I just wanted to get through the day,” Manuel said. “That was it. I wasn’t concerned about anything else, I just wanted to get through it.”

It’s not just Manuel who has had to cope with returning from the injury. Eubanks also felt he needed to make amends with Manuel since he was the one who collided with his teammate.

“I felt really bad about it. He finally had to tell me, ‘Don’t worry about it. Freak plays like that happen,’” Eubanks said. “It’s been really good. He understood I didn’t mean to do it. He didn’t take offense to it or anything.”

One benefit of Manuel’s injury is that he’s using his first year of eligibility this season. When this year’s three freshmen arrived— McLaughlin, Ben Kone and Christian Russell —assistant coach Gregg Gottlieb pointed out that Kendal “really is, in his own way, a true freshman.” After all, Manuel could be at OSU through the 2019-2020 season if he plays through his senior season. That’s three more years to improve on this season’s losing record, three more years to strive for a Pac-12 championship, three more years for Manuel to play the sport he had taken away from him for a year.

“Especially with all the success we had last year and then not having the same amount, it’s definitely hard,” Manuel said. “But at the same time, we’re going to get through this together and build for the future.”

“If you’re not playing for a championship, then I don’t know what you’re doing. That’s definitely one of my goals.”