From Division II role player to a Division I starting lineup. That’s the college basketball career trajectory of junior forward Manny Ansong so far with potential to be even better.
A 6’4” transfer from Division II Wheeling University, Ansong had been providing a big energy spark off the bench for Green Bay since becoming eligible in late December but slotted into the starting lineup this past weekend against IUPUI replacing freshman Ryan Claflin. He responded by having a breakout weekend averaging 16.5 points and 8.0 rebounds in 33.5 minutes over the two game weekend series against the Jaguars helping the Phoenix earn a split.
Ansong has come a long way from averaging 7.5 points and 4.8 rebounds coming off the bench as a freshman at Wheeling during the 2018/2019 season. Last season, under first year head coach Will Ryan, Ansong started every game as a sophomore at Wheeling and upped his production to 14.4 points and 7.4 rebounds per game and shot 55.2% from the floor.
The junior forward followed Ryan to Green Bay when he took the Phoenix head coaching job this past summer and didn’t even expect to be eligible to play this season having been twice denied a waiver from the NCAA. But if there were any lingering questions on if he could make the jump from Division II, he has more than proven his worth at the Division I level since becoming eligible to play prior to Green Bay’s game against Wright State on December 26th.
He’s the team’s leading rebounder and ranks fourth on the team in scoring after the potent offensive guard trio of Amari Davis, PJ Pipes, and Josh Jefferson. He’s also the team’s most efficient offensive player shooting 54.2% from the floor thanks to his explosive athleticism that allows him to get to the basket and a nose for offensive rebounds that allows him to get some easy put backs.
It’s been a long journey for Ansong to Green Bay’s starting lineup. For whatever reason, Ansong was lightly recruited out of Bordentown High School in New Jersey despite averaging over 24 points per game and ended up playing one season at the Canterbury School, a prep school in Connecticut.
“With him, maybe he was a little undersized, maybe they didn’t know what position he was,” Ryan said after Saturday’s victory over IUPUI at the Kress Center. “I’ve actually never asked him what his recruitment looked like coming out of high school or prep school.”
He committed to Wheeling late during the summer of 2018 and stayed through a coaching change following his freshman season that resulted in Ryan becoming the head coach there in July of 2019.
“I was fortunate to come in and got a chance to coach him for a year at Wheeling,” Ryan said. “We really tried to hone in on his skills.”
Ansong admits that he wasn’t the most polished player coming out of high school saying he “really couldn’t handle the ball” and “couldn’t really shoot the ball well” either, but it was his athleticism and effort that caught coaches’ eyes.
His jump shot has improved, though he is still shooting just 28.1% on jumpers according to BartTorvik.com with nearly two thirds of his shot attempts coming at the rim.
“Flying around, playing hard – that is a talent,” Ryan said. “Working tirelessly, relentlessly on every possession, that is a talent.”
“He has his moments where he may be a spectator, we all do. So you’re constantly reinforcing that with the guys ‘don’t be a spectator’. He has his moments just like everyone else. But when he’s locked in and engaged he uses that motor and that athleticism, he’s a tough cover. He’s just fun to coach.”
Even with parts of his game that are still improving, Ansong provides some much needed energy and though on the quieter side, leads by example. He has already provided several highlight reel dunks and is averaging more than 3 offensive rebounds per game over the past 6 games leading to extra possessions.
He is also one of the team’s best defenders ranking second on the team in defensive rating and defensive-win shares according to Sports-Reference.com.
“Like any good player, [he’s] got work to do,” Ryan said. “With his mindset and coachability he’s going to continue to get better because he works at it and he enjoys the game, I think he enjoys our coaching and teaching. He still has a high ceiling.”
Ansong is just getting started in Green Bay as he will still have two seasons of eligibility remaining after this season thanks to the NCAA essentially ruling this as a free year for all players. He is quickly becoming a fan favorite and, if he can continue developing as a player, could elevate his game to become one of the better players in program history.
“Coach Ryan bringing me here to Green Bay,” Ansong said after Saturday’s game, “I’m thankful and trying to be appreciative and give it all my effort for him and this team.”