North Phoenix high school basketball phenom featured in Sports IllustratedPosted: Updated:
Even just a mention in Sports Illustrated is quite an honor for any high school athlete. However, one North Phoenix basketball player was featured in a 10-page spread in the national sports magazine.
The S.I. writer first noticed Nico Mannion, nicknamed the "Ginga Ninja" online for his signature red hair, because of his dunks that have gone viral. This freshman phenom from Pinnacle High School led his team in scoring this year.
He already has more than half a dozen college scholarship offers.
"My first was to Cal State Northridge; and then I have five Pac-12 offers right now: ASU, Utah, UCLA, Arizona, and USC...and then GCU," said Mannion in an exclusive interview with Gina Maravilla.
Mannion's Instagram following is upwards of 57,000. But even with all this attention on and off the court, Mannion understands that it is hard work, not the number of "likes" online, that lead to his success.
"I've been in the gym almost every day since I was young. My dad doesn't have to drag me. I want to be there. I think passion plays a big role in it. If you want to do something and you love it, it doesn't feel like you're working hard at it," Mannion explained.
Mannion's parents are both retired professional athletes. His father, Pace Mannion, played basketball in the NBA and in Europe. His mother, Gaia Mannion, was a professional volleyball player in Italy.
"I don't think he feels any pressure. 'Oh, my dad played. I have to be really good.' Nico is much better than I was at his age. There's no question," said Pace Mannion about his son.
He and his wife work to keep their son grounded.
"We always tell him, even now, it's a privilege. You walk into the gym and you're allowed to practice in this beautiful facility, or you're allowed to travel and be around other teammates. Enjoy the process. It's a privilege," Gaia Mannion said.
Gaia insists on accountability for her son on and off the court. He has to maintain a 4.0-grade point average, or close to the mark; and his chores need to be done, including cleaning his room, taking out the trash and picking up dog poop.
Gaia has also passed on her advice on staying mentally strong. Nico says, "What my mom always told me growing up is that 'you can be bitter or you can be better.' There's always going to be obstacles in life and even basketball; but when you face those obstacles, you're not always going to pass on the first time. You're going to need to work hard and get better to pass those obstacles."
At Pinnacle High School, the head basketball coach, Charlie Wilde, said more than 40 players that have come through his program have gone on to play in college. However, he says Nico is a special talent.
"Coming in as a freshman, he'd probably be the top one. He came in this year and made himself such a good player that we had to start him right away and he led our team in scoring. I've never had a freshman do that before," Wilde said.
Nico says he has not made a decision about what college to attend. He won't even hint at where he might be leaning. But if all goes as planned for this superstar, he is just getting started.
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