ATHENS -- When his professional playing days in Europe were over, Charles Mann Sr. came home to New York, where he would still head down to the park to play.
Trailing him often would be his son, Charles Jr.
“I always used to follow him, and just watch him play,” he said. “I just wanted to be like him.”
The younger Charles Mann is on his way, and he has a chance to be better.
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The transplanted New Yorker -- his accent is half Queens, half Southern -- is the leading scorer and starting point guard for Georgia, the third seed in the SEC tournament. If the Bulldogs have any chance of making a long run this weekend, there’s a good chance Mann will play a big role.
He might be one of the more underappreciated players in the conference. His game isn’t spectacular, but it’s smooth and steady, gradually improving.
Last year, Mann made the SEC all-freshman team. This year, he was second-team all-SEC, as voted on by the coaches.
“He has a really poised and composed game,” teammate Marcus Thornton said. “He has a great pace to his game.”
A bit like his father.
Charles Mann Sr. played basketball overseas until he was 38, most notably in Germany. But since he didn’t play state-side, his namesake son never saw him play a pro game in person, only on the playground.
“He was an athlete,” he said. “He has lots of newspapers from Germany of him dunking over people, of scoring a bunch of points.”
It’s often stated that all five Georgia starters are from the Atlanta area. But that’s a bit of a misnomer. Mann moved there when he was in middle school, but ...
“I’ll say I’m a New Yorker,” he said.
Mann Sr., who could not be reached for this story, moved the family to Atlanta when Mann Jr. was in the seventh grade. The son went on to star in high school at Union Grove before transferring to Milton, just outside of Atlanta, for his senior year.
Mann lists “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air” as his favorite TV show. That was about a kid moving from Philadelphia to Los Angeles. Mann’s journey was a bit different, but Queens to Atlanta is still a stark difference.
“He’ll tell you he lives in the country,” Thornton said, with a laugh.
Mann grew up a Syracuse fan, and it was where he wanted to go to school. He wasn’t offered by the Orange, but Mann said he also didn’t want to go back up north anyway.
That’s why he didn’t accept a scholarship offer from Connecticut, which offered Mann right after the Huskies won the national championship in 2011.
He grew up watching Jason Kidd, another 6-foot-4 point guard. But he didn’t model his game after any particular player -- other than maybe his father.
“My dad was a slasher. He played aggressive,” Mann said. “He was a true New York guard, just tough-minded, big, aggressive, never back down. So I wanted to take some of that in and modify it to nowadays so it could fit pretty well.”
Mann talks up his father, but not himself. He offered nothing very quotable about being named second-team all-SEC.
“It’s cool and everything, but I’m not big over it,” he said. “I just want to win on Friday.”
The most opinionated Mann gets is that teammate Kenny Gaines should have made all-SEC, and Thornton and Donte Williams should have been on the all-defensive team.
But Mann earned his accolades through a very well-rounded game: He leads Georgia in scoring (13.4 points per game), assists (3.2), steals (1.1), and is third on the team in rebounding (4.2).
His game still needs some work. He turns it over too much for a point guard (96 this season), and he doesn’t own a consistent 3-point shot.
But no SEC player this season was more successful at getting to the free-throw line, leading the conference in attempts (246) and makes (170). Mann proved adept at driving to the basket and drawing fouls and made it a key part of his game.
Where did he learn to do that?
From the man he used to follow to the playground, back home in Queens.