He’s the youngest of the group and also the one drawing more attention: 17-years-old and top prospect Niccolò Mannion is at the training camp of the Italy NT coached by Meo Sacchetti, which is preparing in view of two Qualifiers games of the 2019 FIBA World Cup (vs Croatia on June 28th, at Netherlands on July 1st).
We went to Rome to catch up with him at the end of his fourth day of training, talking about the NT as well as his college recruiting situation.
17 years old, first time training with the pros: what it feels like?
It’s an honor. Last year I was with the U16s: to be able to jump from the U16 to the men’s team, was a big jump. I’m just excited to be here, excited to be with all the guys, all the pros, see what they do and learn from them every day.
How is it going with the communication and the knowing-each-other part of it, since it’s a whole new group for you?
First couple of days, it was hard. I speak italian but when they start speaking fast I don’t understand everything. But on the court I understand pretty much everything and I can communicate with the guys pretty easily. Today was probably the best day so far. It just got better and better everyday. We have two trainings a day, morning it’s usually weights and shooting, and at night we got more context stuff, more scrimmaging, up and down stuff, run through plays. It’s been good, today it was really good.
You were talking about the U16 NT: how different was that experience compared to AAU basketball?
It’s way different. It’s a lot more quick thinking here, in AAU it’s a lot of athletes, and it’s just up and downs, there’s not a lot of sets. You don’t have to read as much. Here’s a lot of sets, guys understand how to play the game really, really well.
How likely it is to see you also with the U18 NT during the next FIBA European Championship (from July 28th to August 5th)?
I don’t know, I haven’t talked with my dad about it. It came up the other day but we haven’t really talked about it. That decision will probably be made further down the line.
Not long ago, you said that you want to reclassify to the Class of 2019. As of now, how likely it is to happen, giving a percentage?
Now it’s probably about 90%. It’s almost a done deal. I don’t think I need two more years of high school, honestly. I think I can go with one. This year I’ll try to get into the weight room, fill out a little more, have more of a college body and be ready to play with college kids. When I get back, I’ll have the whole month of July, my last month of AAU. That would be really big for me, trying to have a lot of fun. And then, after that, one year of high school ball and I’m off to college.
Last week, you narrowed your list down to ten schools. Duke and Villanova are among these. Two very important schools that offered you very recently: which are your thoughts about them?
Those are really important to me, those are really big, prestigious schools. Speaking with Jay Wright as well as Coach K, that itself is an honor. To be offered, it’s even a bigger honor. When I’ll cut down my list to five, I’ll probably take my five official visits, I’ll probably go out to both of those actually. Probably August-September-October, around there. When the season starts, I want to get on, catch a game, see what the atmosphere is like, watch the playing style and everything.
In your list, there are blue bloods like Duke and Kansas, but there’s a certain variety of teams: which are the things you look for the most during your recruiting process?
The top two honestly are just my relationship with the coach – I have to be really close with the coaching staff, I have to be really comfortable, it just has to be like a family environment – and then the playing style, because I don’t want to go in and walk the ball up and do stuff like that. I like to play in transition, that’s my game. I want to go in and be able to play my game right away. That’s why I chose those ten: as of right now, I feel they fit my style and I’m close to those coaches too.
Let’s say that you put emphasis on fit and style also because your goal is to be possibly one-and-done.
You were a sophomore in high school and the rules impose some limitations to the recruiting process: how this affected the communication between you and the college coaches?
Well, I’ve been able to speak with them, they just haven’t been able to call me first or text me, so they had to go through the director of my AAU program. So now it will be a lot easier.
Starting from June 15th, coaches will be able to talk directly to you: are there some of them that will come to watch you play while you’re here in Italy?
I don’t know, a couple of coaches asked me about it, but I don’t know if they’re able to, if it’s a live period, what the deal is. So we haven’t really talked about it.