High school basketball players from 15 different states have received the National Senior Boys Basketball Athlete of the Year award. Georgia athletes have been honored three different times. Indiana and New Jersey have each had two players selected for the award.
There have been none from the state of Arizona.
Nico Mannion, who just wrapped up his prep basketball career by leading Pinnacle High School to back-to-back 6A state titles, has been selected by the National High School Coaches Association (NHSCA) as this year’s Basketball Athlete of the Year.
It’s just the latest in accomplishments that catapulted the 5-star guard to the national stage, beginning with his freshman year when Sports Illustrated profiled the then-15-year-old in an article that caught the attention of college recruiters across the country. Since then, intense media attention has been the norm for the youngster.
Mannion’s first scholarship offer came from Cal State — when he was in eighth grade.
He finally made his decision about his college choice when he announced last September he would be attending University of Arizona. The Wildcats had always been considered a favorite among the many suitors, which included most of the elite programs in the nation like Kentucky, Duke, Kansas, and Villanova.
And, since he reclassified to the Class of 2019, he will be on the floor at McKale Center next season. Originally in the Class of 2020, Mannion took online courses that will enable him to graduate this spring, which moved him to the No. 1 point guard in the Class of 2019.
Last year, he led Pinnacle to the school’s first-ever boys’ basketball championship after averaging 23.4 points and six assists per game during the season. This season, he upped his game, averaging 30.4 points and six assists before leading the offense in the Pioneers’ state title victory over Chaparral High School.
He scored 34 points, pulled down eight rebounds, and added six assists against the Firebirds in the 83-64 win. In the first three games of the state tourney, the Pioneers beat their first three opponents by an average of 18 points a game.
Now, Sean Miller will find out whether the 6’3″ guard with the distinctive shock of bright red hair can lead the Wildcats to the same kind of success. Miller and his staff were in serious need of a quality point guard after Brandon Williams, a four-star guard from California, de-committed about this time last year.
The UofA coaches had been persistent and relentless in pursuing Mannion. There was at least one of the Arizona coaches in the stands watching every one of his club games during the last July evaluation period. That attention paid off two months later when the youngster rewarded them with a verbal commitment.
Mannion, who was named this year’s Gatorade Arizona Basketball Player of the Year, may not be finished yet with significant honors before he closes out his high-school years. He’s a finalist for The Arizona Republic’s Player of the Year award.
Better leave a little room in the trophy case, Nico.