Creighton's basketball team this season is loaded with MVPs.
Doug McDermott is the Bluejays' most valuable player. Grant Gibbs is their most valuable passer. Jahenns Manigat? He is Creighton's most valuable personality.
“In a lot of ways, Jahenns is a coach's dream,” assistant coach Darian DeVries said. “He's the guy we count on to provide the energy every day for practice, and that's not easy.
“He's vocal and passionate, and what he does on the practice floor carries over into games for us. What people see from Jahenns on game day is what we see every day in practice.''
Manigat is more than just a rah-rah guy for the Bluejays. Since arriving on campus four years ago, the 6-foot-1 senior from Canada has made his share of big shots and big plays while starting 86 straight games over the past three seasons.
A liability on defense as a freshman, Manigat has developed into one of Creighton's better defenders. He'd step in front of a runaway buffalo to take a charge and get a turnover. He's still no ball-handling whiz, but that part of his game has improved, too.
“He's the perfect guy for this team,'' said McDermott, Manigat's roommate the past three seasons. “He knows his role and he plays it to the best of his ability. He's a guy that can knock down the open 3, a guy that takes a lot of charges.
“He's much improved off the dribble and has a lot better vision than most people think. And what a lot of people don't understand is how good J's communication is out there.''
Gibbs often gets credit for being Creighton's glue guy, the player who sets the agenda on and off the court.
Manigat shoulders an equal share of the leadership role, but his style is heavy on emotion and energy, fueled by a clear passion for the game and his university.
His value cannot be understated, coach Greg McDermott said.
“Jahenns is not a guy that is going to touch the top of the square of the backboard,'' McDermott said. “But he has taken what he has and made the most of it, and he has embraced a role on this team that is every bit as important as the roles that Doug and Grant play.''
Dealing with quick switch
Manigat might not have had a chance to become a Bluejay if coach Dana Altman's staff hadn't lost out on several other targets in the spring of 2010.
“We were scrambling to try to find some guards,'' said DeVries, a holdover from Altman's staff. “I had a friend in the Buffalo area that told me about Jahenns. I watched him work out and felt that he fit the way we were trying to play at the time. He could shoot it, he handled it decently and he had great energy.”
Manigat was playing for the Canadian Regional Elite Development Academy. Based in Hamilton, Ontario, the team competed in many prep showcase events in the United States.
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Although he had committed to Canisius, Manigat agreed to visit Creighton. As soon as he drove past the CenturyLink Center, he was ready to sign.
As it turned out, he would be Altman's last Creighton recruit. The coach resigned in April 2010 to become head coach at Oregon.
“Things like that don't happen at Canadian universities,'' Manigat said. “It was a rude awakening to the nature of the sport. You always hear stories about how things can get ugly after something like that, but I was fortunate it wasn't like that here.''
Two days after Altman resigned, Creighton lured Greg McDermott away from Iowa State. Shortly after accepting the job, McDermott was on the phone to Manigat. A few hours later, Doug McDermott called.
“Everything just seemed to click,'' Manigat said. “Once I got to campus that summer, there seemed to be an immediate connection with the guys on the team. You could tell there was a chemistry.”
Overcoming early obstacles
Greg McDermott chuckles when asked to recall his early impressions of Manigat.
“He had lots of energy, lots of enthusiasm, but he had a long way to go in every facet of the game,'' McDermott said. “His ball-handling needed work, as did his consistency in shooting the basketball. And, at the time, he was a train wreck defensively.''
Manigat found himself overwhelmed by the avalanche of information coaches were throwing at him in early practices.
“It was horrible,'' he said. “I'd sit in the locker room after practice and try to go back over everything we had done. I was having a hard time wrapping my mind around all the concepts.
“Fortunately, seniors like Kaleb Korver and Darryl Ashford were there to help me out. They explained that some days were not going to be easy and there would be things thrown at me that I wouldn't understand. They told me I was going to make mistakes but that I would just have to battle through them.''
Manigat might have been a candidate to redshirt as a freshman, but Creighton was too thin in the backcourt. He came off the bench in his first 22 games, then got a chance to start when a teammate showed up late for a meeting.
He started 16 of the final 17 games, and closed his freshman season with a 5.4 scoring average.
Some of his minutes came at point guard. He struggled there, but DeVries believes that experience helped him.
“He got exposed a little bit, and when that happens, that can lead to some frustration,'' DeVries said. “But he handled it to the best of his ability, and he showed us what he could do.
“we came away feeling he could help us. We could see that he had too much passion and was too good of a kid not to put in the work he needed to get better.”
No time to relax
Teammates showed their respect for Manigat by voting him a captain before his sophomore season.
He averaged 6.6 points for a team that tied the school record with 29 wins and reached the round of 32 in the NCAA tournament. He shot 46.8 percent from 3-point range and led the Missouri Valley with 49.2 percent accuracy in conference play.
He struggled with his shot at times last season, finishing with career lows in field-goal percentage (.406) and 3-point percentage (.357). Still, he came up with one of Creighton's biggest baskets when his driving layup with 11 seconds to play clinched a victory over Wichita State in the Valley tournament final.
Manigat heads into his senior season having scored 654 points while shooting 40.6 percent from 3-point range. McDermott said Manigat has improved defensively as much as almost any player he has coached.
“I'll have a chance to play four years,” Manigat said, “and some of my best friends are the guys on this team. I know some kids leave programs and lose touch with the guys they play with. That's what makes this group so special. The guys I've played with are going to be lifelong friends.”
The Bluejays are three practices into preparation for their first season in the new Big East. For their nine newcomers — five scholarship players and four walk-ons — the sessions can amount to a basketball version of advanced calculus. There is much to learn, and that can leave them with a deer-in-the-headlights look as they struggle to take it all in.
Now, it's Manigat who CU's head coach often summons to demonstrate the proper way to run a drill. It's Manigat who is quick to encourage a teammate still feeling scorched by a coach's critique.
“I remember when I was introduced to some of these same drills four years ago,” Manigat said. “I'd look to my left and to my right and wonder what the hell was going on.
“I try to help the younger guys get through this. I know how helpless you feel when you're on the floor and you don't know what's going on.''
Just as Korver and Ashford helped him through the rough times, Manigat is intent on making sure his new teammates learn the strokes that will keep them swimming instead of sinking.
And that underscores his true value to this team and the program.
“Jahenns is as good of a team guy as I've ever had,'' McDermott said. “The energy he brings to our program is infectious.''