Where would North Carolina be without Brady Manek?

For North Carolina fans, that’s a frightening question to ponder just hours before the Tar Heels take on Duke in the Final Four on Saturday night. The answer is pretty simple: Not in the Final Four.

UNC maybe wouldn’t have even made the Tournament if Manek hadn’t chosen to play his final year of college basketball in Chapel Hill. He was crucial to North Carolina’s offense down the stretch, and his impact has only increased in March.

In the NCAA Tournament, Manek is averaging 21.5 points, 8 rebounds and 2 assists per game. He’s also shooting 57.7% from the field and 47.1 percent from 3-point range.

Here’s a closer look at how Manek arrived in Chapel Hill and where he ranks amongst the best transfers in college basketball history.

How we got here

In four years at Oklahoma, Manek never made it to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. He was a freshman on the Trae Young team that took the nation by storm early in the year, but flamed out in a first-round exit to Rhode Island.

In 2019, Oklahoma made the Tournament again but got smoked by eventual-champion Virginia in the round of 32. It was a similar story in 2021, when OU lost to Gonzaga in that same round.

So when Brady Manek decided to transfer last April following Lon Kruger’s retirement, he still had a lot he wanted to accomplish.

“When I decided to come here, I knew the history,” Manek said at a press conference in New Orleans this week. “I knew that North Carolina plays in big games. I didn’t expect to be in this stage, but the way the year has gone, the last month and a half for us, it’s been unbelievable.”

Making it work

It didn’t click right away. Manek came off the bench early in the year and wasn’t a great fit alongside fellow transfer big Dawson Garcia. Both Manek and Garcia occupy some of the same areas on offense and neither is a defensive rim protector.

But when Garcia was forced to leave the program for personal reasons in the middle of the season, Manek stepped up. He was inserted into UNC’s starting lineup and never looked back.

His partnership with Armando Bacot has proved to be seamless. Bacot patrols the paint and protects the rim while Manek stretches the floor and is capable of throwing crisp entry passes. It’s the type of connection that Manek never had during his four seasons in Norman.

“The chemistry between Armando and Brady has worked from day one,” Davis told reporters before UNC faced UCLA. “It just has. They just play off of each other. Their skills complement each other. Their personalities complement each other. When they’re out there on the floor, we are at our best.”

Who are the other contenders for best transfer in college basketball history?

Unless Manek helps lead North Carolina to the National Championship in New Orleans this week, it would be difficult for him to claim that title.

There’s two players who immediately come to mind: Loyola Marymount’s Hank Gathers and Baylor’s Davion Mitchell.

Gathers transferred from USC to Loyola Marymount before the 1987 season, and the results were historic. He helped lead one of the most prolific college basketball teams ever. He averaged 28 points and 11.1 rebounds per game over three seasons. Tragically, Gathers passed away on the court due to a heart condition in the 1990 WCC Tournament.

Mitchell transferred to Baylor after one year at Auburn. He played two seasons before the Bears and was named all-Big 12 both years. He was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2021 and helped lead the Bears to the 2021 National Championship.

Gathers’ sheer production and Mitchell’s high-level accomplishments probably out-weigh Manek’s impact on the Tar Heels — at least so far.

John Lucas III, Duncan Robinson and Johnny Juzang all have similar stories of leading their second school to the Final Four. However, for better or worse, there is one main difference. All three of those players got to spend multiple seasons at their schools while Manek has just 12 months in Chapel Hill.

Regardless of what happens on Saturday night vs. Duke, Manek is firmly entrenched in that club. If UNC can win two more games in New Orleans this week, he’ll have a claim as one of the most impactful transfers in college basketball history.