LAS VEGAS – Labeled a basketball prodigy at 15, Nico Mannion’s journey to the NBA has been a bumpy one. The Pinnacle High School and University of Arizona star is using the NBA Summer League to show that he deserves a full-time role in the NBA.
“(I want) to prove that I belong, prove that I can help a team win games coming in and just be a good addition, that’s the main thing,” Mannion said. “I think people know my character … that’s not really in question anymore and I think the main thing is just getting on the floor and showing that I can help a team win games.”
Mannion is exploring his options. Although he is playing for the Milwaukee Bucks in the summer league, the Golden State Warriors recently extended a two-way qualifying offer, making him a restricted free agent. Additionally, he recently signed a two-year deal with Saski Baskonia of Liga Endesa, Spain’s ACB League.
“He’s coming with the right mentality, the right attitude (and) he’s picking up the ball full court,” said Bucks summer league head coach Adrian Griffin. “I think a point guard his size has to be really disruptive and I think he’s doing that. I think he’s pressuring at 94-feet and he’s running this team.”
Mannion, born in Siena, Italy, and ultimately settling in Phoenix, was an internet sensation as soon as he hit ninth grade. A viral video of a seemingly meek, average looking ninth-grader posterizing a much taller defender shot him to overnight viral fame. Soon after, he was featured in Sports Illustrated as a “sorta maybe” basketball prodigy.
After this, Mannion hit the ground running for Pinnacle and led them to back-to-back state championships in 2018 and 2019, when he scored a combined 55 points over the two title games.
Before he decided to take summer classes and reclassify from graduating in 2020 up to 2019, he collected several accolades in his shorter-than-usual high school career. He was a back-to-back Gatorade Arizona Player of the Year, McDonald’s All-American and five-star recruit coming out of high school.
Duke, Villanova and Marquette offered scholarships but he ultimately chose the University of Arizona. Mannion was a one-and-done at Arizona and All Pac-12 second team and an All-team freshman.
Originally expected to be a top 10 pick in the 2020 draft, his draft stock fell significantly, with multiple outlets suggesting he would land anywhere from pick No. 22 to late in the second round. He ultimately went to the Golden State Warriors at No. 48 and bounced back and forth between their G-League Santa Cruz Warriors and the main roster.
In his lone season in the NBA, Mannion played in nine games with the Santa Cruz Warriors, where he averaged 19.3 points, 6.9 assists and 3.4 rebounds. He played in 30 games for Golden State, starting one, and averaged 1.3 points, 2.3 assists and 1.5 rebounds.
After his rookie season with the Warriors, Mannion opted to take his game overseas and play for Virtus Bologna, a team in Italy’s Serie A league. He played two years in the Lega Basket Serie A (LBA), averaging 3.2 points, 3.9 assists and 2 rebounds.
During his time at Golden State, the 19-year-old played alongside a championship team that featured Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. He also spent time playing with breakout star Jordan Poole on the Santa Cruz Warriors.
“The biggest thing I learned from them is just consistency,” Mannion said. “After a game, seeing Steph get a workout in or coming in the morning of a trip, no one’s in the gym except for Steph. he’s by himself, no trainer, he’s lifting. Seeing one of the best players in the world putting in more time than anybody else shows a lot and there’s a reason he is who he is and why he’s so good.
Mannion’s father and former NBA player, Pace Mannion, was also drafted by the Warriors, at pick No. 43 in 1983. Similarly, Pace also left the NBA to play overseas in the Euroleague.
“Pops is always giving me some detailed stuff after games because he sees stuff as a basketball player,” Mannion said. “He’s been there since I can remember, so the advice, there has been a lot of it. He’s been by my side through every step, high school, college, NBA, overseas (and) right now.”
His time overseas gave him the necessary tools that he believes have substantially benefited his game. Mannion said that the lack of a three-second count makes floor spacing tighter on defense, so he has significantly improved his ability to make tight, tough passes and threading the needle.
“I think the biggest thing for me is just showing my physicality … going over to Europe putting on some weight – I think that was a knock on me when I came out of college,” Mannion said. “Just being a point guard, being able to get my teammates involved and run a team …not turn the ball over and kind of keep that lead where it’s at in those minutes.”
In his first showing with the Bucks during the summer league, he posted 16 points, three assists and four rebounds against the Denver Nuggets. He followed this Saturday with six points, six assists and one rebound against the Phoenix Suns. Mannion came off the bench for Monday’s game against the Brooklyn Nets and contributed 4 points and four rebounds.
With a strong showing on the Bucks summer league roster, Mannion is aiming for another shot at his NBA dream.