(Editor’s note: University of Montana media release)
MISSOULA – Billings native Kendal Manuel always knew he wanted to be a Griz, it just took him a little longer than expected to get to where he’s now at. Manuel, who began his collegiate career at Oregon State, will transfer to Montana.
The 6-4 shooting guard will have to sit out the 2018-19 season due to NCAA transfer rules, but will have at least one season of eligibility with the Grizzlies, beginning in 2019-20. Manuel missed his entire true freshman season with a broken leg, and if he receives a medical hardship waiver from the NCAA, could play two seasons for Montana.
“I’m really excited to transfer to the University of Montana,” Manuel said. “The fact that I’ll have family and friends from around the state able to watch, and the fact that I’ll be playing for a winning program, it’s a great opportunity.”
At Skyview High School in Billings, Manuel led the Falcons to a state championship in 2015, being named the tournament MVP. The two-time first-team all-state honoree averaged 19.7 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game as a senior.
He had strong interest in playing for the Griz, but when former coach Wayne Tinkle left for the head coaching position at Oregon State, Manuel instead followed Tinkle to Corvallis.
Manuel started 25 games as a redshirt freshman in 2016-17, averaging 7.8 points, 2.4 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game. He played a reserve role in 2017-18, averaging 10.7 minutes per game. During his freshman season, his 52 made three-pointers were the second-most by a freshman in OSU history. Overall, he ranked second on the team for steals, third for assists and fourth for scoring.
“Kendal is a player who is mature and plays at a high level,” Montana head coach Travis DeCuire said. “He will use those characteristics to improve his game during his year off and be at his best coming into 2019-20.”
Much of Montana’s success over the years has come from older, mature players, an important trait to DeCuire. In another season, once starters Jamar Akoh, Bobby Moorehead, Michael Oguine and Ahmaad Rorie graduate, it will open the door to Manuel and others to take the helm.
It’s always nice to sign a Montana player, but it also doesn’t hurt that the Grizzlies have benefited from transfers in recent memory.
In his first season with the Griz, Akoh, a transfer from Cal State Fullerton, led the team for rebounding and blocked shots and earned third-team All-Big Sky recognition. Rorie, also a transfer from the Pac-12 (Oregon) has become one of the top players in school history during his two seasons in Missoula, already surpassing 1,000 career points and earning first-team all-conference honors in 2017-18 as a junior.
“There’s no doubt that we expect Kendal to transition into a role similar to what we’ve seen from Ahmaad and Jamar,” DeCuire said. “We think he has the ability to do that.”
The relationships Manuel had with the Griz staff were a factor for his transfer to Montana. He was recruited by DeCuire and associate head coach Chris Cobb when they got to Montana during Manuel’s senior season. The Billings native also knows assistant coach Rachi Wortham, who was OSU’s director of player personnel during Manuel’s redshirt season.
Also a pull, though, was the thought of coming closer to home and playing a valuable role on a team that has won two conference titles in the past four seasons and advanced to the NCAA tournament this March.
“I’m going to be playing for a great program,” Manuel said. “They’ve had a lot of success, and I hope to continue that, even if I can’t play for a year. Even this next year, I hope to be a leader and use my experience of playing in the Pac-12 to help my teammates. I want to get a feel for the system so when I am able to play I won’t miss a step. I plan to use this year to develop my game and try to take it to another level so we can continue winning championships at Montana.”