There isn’t a playbook for what Karim Mané is trying to accomplish.
The 19-year-old from Saint-Hubert, a suburb on Montreal’s South Shore, declared his eligibility for the 2020 NBA draft last week.
Of course, making it to the NBA is the goal of many young men his age, but what makes him unique is that he’s attempting to make the jump directly out of Quebec’s junior college system, CEGEP.
“If you work for it, the sky’s the limit,” Mané said.
No one has ever made the leap from CEGEP directly to the world’s best league.
In fact, it’s a path so unlikely that few young players stick around Quebec to even attempt it.
“Most ball players from Quebec usually leave, they go to the States, or they go to Ontario to go to prep school. But by staying here I made a point that you don’t have to leave. You can go to CEGEP, and if you’re focused and talented, you can go where you want,” Mané said.
Mané recently completed his playing career with the Vanier College Cheetahs — a school that has earned a reputation in the province for being a springboard to Division One NCAA basketball programs.
The Cheetahs’ longtime head coach, Andrew Hertzog, says Mané’s plan to crack into the NBA is ambitious but concedes that in his 42-year coaching career, he’s rarely come across a talent like Mané.
“Karim is a special case,” Hertzog said. “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a player with as steep a development curve. The way he just took off and how he got better is not only a tribute to his incredible work ethic, but also his intelligence and determination to do whatever he needs to do to get better.”
FIBA U19 World Cup a turning point
It was while Mané was suited up for Team Canada at the FIBA U19 World Cup in Greece last summer that he emerged as a viable NBA prospect.
“He got to the rim and finished. He dunked it on people,” said David DeAverio, who was an assistant coach for Canada’s U19 team.
“When the NBA scouts see Karim, they see a 6-4 point guard who can get to the rim and attack the rim. He’s athletic. He’s a good rebounder for his size, as well, and so I think he checks off a lot of the boxes.”
By rule, NBA scouts were not allowed to speak to Mané directly while he was playing for Canada at the world championships, but word of their interest in him got back to via a reporter.
“I had an interview with a guy from ESPN, and he told me I was draft eligible, and people were looking at me,” Mané said. “I was like — woah!”
“Fortunately for me I had some big games, and then everything started happening.”
Hertzog said four NBA scouts came to the opening game of the Cheetahs’ season last year at Jean-de-Brébeuf college, to see Mané play. Then later in the fall when the team made its way to a tournament in the USA, scouts from 16 different NBA teams came to give Mané a look.
“He became probably the most-recruited player in the history of Quebec,” Hertzog said.
In addition to the interest from professional teams, NCAA schools have kept a close eye on Mané. Marquette, Michigan State, DuPaul and Memphis are among the American universities that have recruited him heavily, just to name a few.
Senegalese kid got a late start in basketball
Mané’s family immigrated to Canada from Senegal when he was seven. He says as a young boy, he had dreams of becoming a professional soccer player and doesn’t remember even touching a basketball until he was a student at D’Iberville elementary school.
“I got to the new school — everybody was playing basketball during the breaks, so I was kind of forced to play basketball,” he recalled.
It took until he was 16 years old to get serious about the sport. The heartbreak of losing the championship final while playing with Lucien-Pagé high school was the catalyst.
“We lost in the final. It really hurt me, and that’s where I realized that I really care. That’s where I switched. I was like, ‘OK, it’s time to take this seriously’ — and from that point on it’s been the main focus on my end.”
Since then Mané’s coaches say his drive and dedication to excel both on the court and in the classroom has been nothing short of exceptional.
“English is Karim’s third language, and he never went to school in English before Vanier, and he’s got near-Ivy League School grades,” said Hertzog. “He’s the full package.”
“He’s like a sponge. He wants more information and wants the information to keep coming, so he can just keep getting better,” DeAverio said.
Mané says it’s his parents who taught him his work ethic, and he believes it all goes back to their roots in Senegal.
When he was 15, he travelled back to his parents home for the first time since immigrating to Canada. The trip left a big impression on him.
“Over there, it’s really competitive,” he said.”No matter what you do — going to school or playing soccer or doing karate or anything — everything you do, you have to be the best because everybody wants to be the best.”
Keeping all options open
While making it to the NBA through the draft this year is priority number one, Mané doesn’t want to get tunnel vision.
Playing in the NCAA for one year or longer is something he’s considering. If he goes that route, he says, he’s interested in studying finance.
Beyond college, Mané says, playing professionally in Europe is another option for next season.
His father and his uncle, Maurice Ndour, are helping him navigate the process. Ndour played 32 games in the NBA with the New York Knicks and is now playing professionally in Valencia, Spain.
“Right now I just want to keep all my options open, and I don’t feel right now like I need an agent because I have my uncle — he’s my main adviser in this process, so I’m good with that,” said Mané.
The outbreak of COVID-19 has made it difficult for Mané to showcase himself to prospective suitors because all in-person workouts are on hold. Additionally, he missed out on competing at the Nike Hoops Summit — an elite showcase game — because it was cancelled.
He remains hopeful that someone will call his name and select him if the NBA draft goes ahead as planned on June 25. But even if he doesn’t hear his name, he’s determined to find his way to the NBA one way or another and become an example for other young players in Quebec.
“I never had someone who I could look up to that went this route. So I’m glad I’m the one doing it, and I’m grateful for the opportunity.”