Riverhead hoops star returns to host basketball camps

Riverhead’s home-grown hoops star Charles Manning Jr., now 25 years old and currently playing pro ball in Germany for EWE Baskets Oldenburg, has decided to return to his hometown to give back and teach what he’s learned over the years. His journey to stardom was unconventional and he learned a plethora of life lessons along the way.

“Talent only gets you so far,” Manning said in a phone interview from Germany last week.“I learned that the hard way over and over in my career.”

After leaving Riverhead in 10th grade and moving in with his father, Charles Manning, Sr., who goes by his middle name, Maurice, a star player for Bridgehampton High School during his heyday, the younger Manning decided to follow in his dad’s footsteps and transfer to a smaller school where he could focus on both basketball and academics. The move paid off quickly as Manning ended up leading the Killer Bees to a Class D state championship in 2015, netting 31 points in the final and earning Most Valuable Player honors. The recruiting hype surrounding Manning picked up considerably after he got an offer to join Long Island Lutheran his senior year, a private school powerhouse that consistently gets players into massive college programs.

“I wanted to bet on myself,” Manning said. “For me to get my name out there, I had to play with the best. I had the opportunity and wanted to give it my best chance.”

Manning proved his basketball abilities and competed with the best of them on the biggest stage his senior year. He received an offer to play for DePaul University in Chicago but a major set back soon upended those plans.

“I lost eligibility because of my grades,” Manning said, a shortcoming that still bothers him today. “I wasn’t focused on the right things,” he said. “It was always about basketball for me. The schoolwork was kind of an afterthought.”

After losing his scholarship offer, the 6-foot-5 guard scrambled to regain eligibility, attending summer school and focusing on his grades. He ended up leaving New York altogether and traveled the country with his father trying out for teams in different states, ultimately landing at Combine Academy in Charlotte, N.C. He worked on his skills there and started to receive more Division I offers again only to find out he was still ineligible.

So instead of taking the Division I route, he enrolled at Florida Southwestern, a junior college, and focused on regaining eligibility to give himself a shot at playing for a major Division I program. By his sophomore season, he was a junior college All-American, the third-ranked recruit in the country and had 30 Division I offers. Talk about a turnaround.

“It was never my ability that hurt me,” Manning said. “I had the size, the quickness, the shooting touch. I really sabotaged myself early on. But I knew I couldn’t give up on my dream to eventually make it to the NBA.”

All the work paid off and Manning accepted a scholarship offer to join Louisiana State University. Under the bright lights, Manning thrived. He received significant playing time and impacted the game on both ends of the floor.

Then the injuries happened. First it was a broken foot that required surgery, and he never fully recovered during his time at LSU.

“I had never dealt with an injury before in my career,” Manning said. “It was a tough situation for me being around some of the best basketball players in the country and not being able to be at my best. It was just a bad mental state for me there. My biggest regret at LSU was not being as focused as I could have been.”

Manning again decided to transfer to give himself a fresh slate and the opportunity to be in the starting lineup at a new program. That led to his final collegiate stop at the University of South Alabama. There he was named second-team all-Sun Belt and first-team National Association of Basketball Coaches all-district after leading the team in scoring with 15.4 points per game. “I was getting ready for predraft stuff for the NBA after the season,” Manning said. “Then I hurt my foot again. I couldn’t work out for any teams. My dream pretty much started to crumble in front of my eyes. But I didn’t give up and got introduced to overseas basketball instead.” In 2022, Manning started his overseas experience in Serbia for a team called Metalac. He averaged 12.4 ppg there and his reputation started to build following the season and he joined a higher-tier league in Serbia called the ABA. He upped his scoring average to 15.6 ppg and his contract was bought out midseason by his current club in Germany after just seven games. This season was Manning’s best yet as a pro, averaging 16.5 ppg and shooting 47% from threepoint range.

“Europe as a whole is more of a team-minded game,” Manning said. “There isn’t so much oneon- one type stuff like the NBA. It’s always about doing the right thing in the moment and making the right play. I like it here, I’m learning new languages, but the goal hasn’t changed: I still want to make it to the NBA. I’d like an opportunity to play in the NBA summer league and get a foot in the door. That’s what I’ve been working for all my life.”

Part of that journey includes a return to Riverhead this summer where Manning will host his first basketball camp at Stotzky Memorial Park from July 23 to 26. The camp is sponsored by Unity Baptist Church and will be broken down into three age groups: Kindergarten to fifth grade, sixth to eighth grade, and ninth to 12th grade. It’s open to boys and girls and the fee is $50. Call or text 631-375-5486 to register.

“I want to do this camp for the kids,” Manning said. “I want to give back to the community I grew up in. I know growing up I didn’t really have basketball camps to go to nearby and the ones I did go to cost a fortune. I want to help the kids who have a basketball dream. Riverhead is my city and I love my city. No matter how far I go and no matter how big I get, Riverhead will always be my home. It made me who I am today.”