ATHENS – Smile more. Stop worrying so much. Let your guard down a bit. And smile.
That’s what Charles Mann is told on a near-daily basis by J.J. Frazier, at least according to Frazier, who by virtue of age and height should be looking up to Mann. Instead Frazier, like many on the Georgia basketball team, acts as the public defender of a senior they feel is vastly underappreciated.
Go ahead, ask head coach Mark Fox a question that even hints at Mann’s perceived shortcomings. Expect an earful back. The same goes for the teammates of the player who, occasional missed free throws and turnovers aside, has remained a starter, hard-working key cog on a winning team.
Sometimes too hard-working.
“He’s always meant a lot. But I always tell him that sometimes he’s too locked in,” Frazier said. “Sometimes he’s just locked in so much that he doesn’t understand that you still have to have fun with it. So I just try to remind him every chance I get to smile a little bit. Just enjoy the moment. You’ve only got three months, three-and-a-half months left of this. Enjoy the moment.”
The scoring stats would say that Mann has back-slid: He has gone from averaging 13.9 points per game as a sophomore to 11.2 last year to 10.1 this year. But those around the team say that doesn’t tell a fair story.
Mann’s assists have gone up and turnovers have gone down, for one thing. His rebounding and ability to draw fouls have also remained very good for a guard. And as a potential star, sophomore Yante Maten, is emerging in the post, Mann is doing his best to facilitate that.
“I’m kinda finding myself now,” Mann said after Wednesday’s win over Missouri, when he had a team-high six assists. “It took me longer than I wanted.”
What did Mann mean by that?
“Just playing well,” he said. “Yante’s been probably what I think is the best post player in the conference. So just playing off everybody else, and not being the first option. Being the third or fourth option. Just finding myself.”
For awhile Mann’s identity was as the point guard who would drive and get to the free throw line. That’s still who is most of the time. But now Georgia’s offense is increasingly going through Maten in the post, so Mann is passing up drives in the name of trying to set up something down low.
And Mann is often not even playing point guard, ceding that to Frazier or freshman Turtle Jackson, while Mann switches to small forward.
“He always does things well that nobody ever talks about,” Fox said. “He gets to the line a lot. His body takes an amazing amount of punishment. He’s been a terrific player for us and tonight he was outstanding, he really was. And I thought he played at both ends, and it was good to see him have a good night.”
Here’s an ironic note: Mann became UGA’s all-time free throw attempts leader on Wednesday ( he now has 748) in a game when he only shot three free throws.
“That’s pretty cool,” Mann said, with a grin. “I’m kinda happy but that doesn’t make my year. It just happened to fall today.”
It’s also worth pointing out that since Mann arrived the Bulldogs have gone 35-26 in SEC play, won at least 20 games twice in a row, and made the SEC tournament semifinals twice in a row. Mann, who became a starter late his freshman year, has been a big part of that.
“Chuck has been a big part of this program, and to see him play well is fun,” Frazier said.
And, during Wednesday’s easy win, Frazier noticed something about Mann.
“He had a lot of fun. He smiled a lot,” he said. “It was fun to see.”