The Macau Black Bears continue to show the quality of their scouting network, netting themselves yet another star player with a low-profile resume.
After parting ways with veteran guard Anthony Tucker, Black Bears management was not only tasked with having to look for a backcourt running mate who could gel seamlessly with marquee star Mikh McKinney, but also a player capable of replicating the numbers vacated by the former ASEAN Basketball League (ABL) World Import MVP.
Tucker’s chemistry with McKinney was unquantifiable; the duo were capable of overcoming big deficits to push the Black Bears back into the lead or within striking distance in a single period alone. To put it simply, it was near impossible to shutdown both Tucker and McKinney completely for a full 40 minutes.
So who could the team bring in to fill in the gaping void left by the departure of Tucker?
Thus far, it seems that the Black Bears have found the answer in first-year import Kenneth Manigault. But at the time of his addition, very little was known of the guard, with many doubting his ability to play in the ABL, a situation reminiscent to that of Tucker’s when he first entered the regional league. Moreover, after just seven games, the league and its fans should be well-aware of Manigualt, who is an early candidate to bring home the MVP award at season’s end.
In the 2019-20 ABL season opening game, the 6’5” swingman dropped 31 points and hauled in six rebounds against the Taipei Fubon Braves. The statline may not have been overly impressive or fancy, but what wowed fans was Manigault’s game with his floaters, mid-range pull-ups, ice-cold long bombs, and lightning quick end-to-end pushes across the floor.
Additionally, the American import plays with tremendous energy, feeding off the crowd and seemingly becoming deadlier as the noise escalates.
“I’m an energy kind of guy and it starts with defense,” Manigualt shared. “I think my play so far has shown people my capabilities.”
It’s hard not to be attracted to his game, especially in how it complements that of McKinney’s, with the pairing between the two kicking off with a solid beginning. When the Filipino-American finds himself in foul trouble or up against a triple team, Manigault comfortably steps right in to carry the team against pesky opposition.
Joining a new team and having to share the ball with the team’s standing primary ball handler is a tall task, maybe even more so for an import player, but Manigault has made it work. The backcourt storyline is befitting for the Black Bears, who have continued writing the script since their ABL debut back in the 2017-18 season.
Manigault and McKinney, the ‘M&M’ combo, is already creating problems for the rest of the league, and should only continue to improve as they become more comfortable playing alongside one another.
“Mikh is one of the most elite scorers I’ve ever played alongside.”
“We complement each other on the court,” the South Carolina native said about his partnership with the former ABL Heritage Import MVP. “We built chemistry with one another, which will only continue to grow during the season.”
However, as eye-catching as their offensive showing has been, the Black Bears are currently only sitting in the sixth spot of the league’s standings, winning just three of their first seven games. A long, tough road trip in December could be to blame for the team’s rough start, as the Black Bears ended 2019 on a rather low note, losing two consecutive games to finish out the year.
“We would love to be above .500, but we dug ourselves a hole early in a couple games which resulted in a lost,” Manigault acknowledged. “But for us to be 3-4 in the first seven games isn’t terrible. We played six games on the road and showed the league our identity.”
The Black Bears will have an opportunity to get back on the winning track and make ground in the standings with all seven of their games in January at the comfort of their home inside of the Venetian Macau. For Manigault, the start of 2020 is a much needed shot back at redemption for him and his team.
“These next seven games in January are crucial for us,” Manigault said. “It’s going to benefit us because they are all at home and we don’t have to travel, where in the first six games, we were on the road for each game.”
With averages of 24.0 points, 8.3 rebounds, 5.0 assists, and 2.4 steals per game through six contests in 2019, any doubt surrounding whether the American swingman belongs in the league should be laid to rest, with more highlights and decisive plays down the stretch of the season to be expected.
To strictly judge Manigault as the successor to Tucker would be unfair, as both bring different assets to the table and have vary in play style. But one thing is certain: Manigault instills a much-needed killer instinct for his team and alongside McKinney, keeps the Black Bears as a legitimate, entertaining force in the league.
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