Sterling Manley is ready and willing, but the question is when he’ll be able.
After battling a knee injury throughout last season, the junior big man underwent offseason surgery and hasn’t been able to practice as he deals with what’s officially being termed as “recurring left knee soreness.”
“He looks really damn good in a suit standing on the side, but that’s all I can tell you guys,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said.
He looks really good in uniform too, as he was for the Tar Heels’ media day on Wednesday, where he was clearly in the best shape of his career after putting on 15 pounds of muscle through his offseason work with strength coach Jonas Sahratian, now weighing in at 250 pounds.
“When you go through that rehab process with Jonas, you’re in that weight room every day — every day, sometimes twice a day — so you have no choice but to get bigger and really work on your weaknesses and turn them into your strengths,” Manley said.
When he’ll turn that strength into results on the court remains to be seen as there’s no timetable for his return as trainer Doug Halverson and his staff look for answers regarding the knee pain.
“He doesn’t shoot, he doesn’t run, he doesn’t get down in a stance,” Williams said. “He’s not playing. If you’re asking, ‘What’s the progress report down the road?’ I have no idea, I have no idea. There’s no other way you can ask me anything. I have no idea, I do not know when he will play, period.”
It’s a disappointing setback for Manley who, as a freshman, showed offensive promise and had the highest rebounding rate on the roster per KenPom.com, albeit in a limited role. As a sophomore, Manley played in just 18 games and never found a groove as he battled the knee injury. After the Dec. 29 win over Davidson, Manley sat out until March, returning to play a total of nine minutes over six games.
Although he was never healthy, his defensive rebounding rating was again the best on the roster while he was just behind Garrison Brooks on the offensive boards. His rate of blocking shots was also Carolina’s best by a wide margin and he got to the free throw line at a higher rate of anyone else.
Rather than simply getting back on the court, Manley’s sole focus is getting completely healthy so as to not risk another setback.
“It’s frustrating at times, but the main thing is just trusting the process,” he said. “Everybody keeps asking me this and that, but really just trust the process and the main thing I focus on is being healthy. Not this, not rushing back, not this and that, and when I get back on the court, I’m healthy and 100 percent.”