MISSOULA – Montana fans already had plenty of reasons to get excited about this men’s basketball season. Now they have another Treasure State product to cheer for as Kendal Manuel, a Billings Skyview High School graduate, returned to his home state to try and help a championship team win even more.
When Manuel first checked into a game wearing a Griz jersey, it surprised many in Dahlberg Arena. Manuel was pretty shocked himself. The junior transfer found out just two hours before tipoff that the NCAA had granted his appeal to play right away at UM.
“It was crazy, because we had been waiting for almost a month to hear back from the NCAA,” said Manuel. “And then all of a sudden heard back. Coach (Travis DeCuire) brought me into his office, congratulated me and everything. Now we’ve got business to handle.”
Manuel had always thought about playing for the Griz, but after leading Billings Skyview to a state title as a senior, he chose to join his best friend Tres Tinkle and play for Tres’s dad Wayne at Oregon State.
Manuel started 25 games for the Beavers as a freshman, but saw his playing time take a dip last year. So when he looked at making a change, Montana became an obvious solution.
“I saw everything that was going on with this program,” said Manuel. “Coach Travis (DeCuire), he’s been doing great things here since I’ve been out of high school. So it was an easy decision.”
The NCAA granted his appeal because Manuel was moving closer to home. So instead of sitting out a year, he joins a Montana team loaded with experience and coming off an NCAA Tournament run. Adding another talented player to an established group can be tricky, but Travis DeCuire loves the added help.
“We were deep at guard already,” said DeCuire. “But I think he’s a little different than the guys we already had returning. Complacency is something that we always try to avoid, so every season starts off new. We’ve got one guy leave and multiple bodies come in, you’ve got to kind of shake it up a little bit.”
“I’m not trying to step on anybody’s toes or anything,” said Manuel. “But at the same time I have to come out here and do whatever is best for our team to win — whether that be me clapping the most on the bench or me making shots. Whatever it may be, I’m trying to help this team. I think that I can contribute in a lot of ways. One was is leadership, because I’ve had a lot of experience in playing in the Pac-12 and everything. Then on top of that I feel like I can be a 3-point shooter, because I feel like that was something that was lacking last year.”
Manuel is nailing his role. He shot 38 percent from behind the arc at Oregon State, four percent higher than the Griz team did a year ago. And so far this season, he has more more than half (52 percent) of his shots from deep, making at least two 3-pointers in all five games.
The Montanan’s return home seems to be coming at a perfect time for everyone.
Manuel picked up some invaluable experience this summer. He played for the national team of his father’s native country, Mozambique. In three World Cup qualifiers, he scored a team-high 21.7 points per game.