'They had the confidence to win games': Brady Manek, Kristian Doolittle's history as teammates helping Sooners
NORMAN — Brady Manek set up camp in the short corner of the basketball court once in a game, and Kristian Doolittle would feed him the ball.
Manek knocked down 10- to 15-foot shots like it was nothing, but he and Doolittle weren’t wearing Sooner uniforms. Instead, the name across their chests was “Eagles,” and they were playing in a holiday tournament championship in Yukon when they were in third and fourth grade, respectively.
Manek finished with 18 or 20 points in that game, helping the Edmond Eagles beat the Norman Runners — with current NBA star Trae Young and Oklahoma State senior Lindy Waters III — for the title.
Manek and Doolittle are now star forwards and the top two leading scorers for the surging Sooners, who face a tough road test Saturday at third-ranked Kansas. The relationship between the OU duo dates back to when Manek was 5 years old and Doolittle was 6. They were teammates through middle school.
The Eagles were coached by Manek’s dad, Cary, and Larry Jenkins, whose grandson Vaughn Raney was also on the team. The team often played up — one year up in Doolittle’s case, which was two years up for Manek. When they started playing, they had a good understanding of the rules. They knew not to travel or double dribble. But with 5- and 6-year olds, the referees allowed that. Manek and Doolittle didn’t like that.
“They would get frustrated,” Cary said. “And be like, ‘You can’t do that.’”
The only solution was to play up at the first age group that followed all of the rules. But playing with older kids wasn’t a problem for Brady or Kristian or the rest of the Eagles. They were always a good basketball team.
“They were fundamental,” Cary said. “They had good shots at that age. They wanted to get better. They shot in the gym on their own. They listened. If you told them to do something or run a play they would run it.
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“Basically just the basketball IQ, you could already see it.”
The Eagles rarely lost in the state of Oklahoma or anywhere else. The team had several kids who went on to play in college. Brady’s brother, Kellen, who plays for Southeastern Oklahoma State, was another key member of the team. Trae Young was an Eagle for two years. Former Iowa State player Jakolby Long, OU walk-on Read Streller also played on the Eagles.
The longer they played together, the more they and the rest of their teammates grew the ability to know where everybody would be at a certain time and what they could count on one another to do. Brady Manek and Kristian Doolittle were a big part of what made the team so good.
Doolittle and Manek were each the main reason the Eagles won games. One or the other would carry the team to a win, just like it has been at times this season for the Sooners. Either of them could get the job done.
“They’re the kind of guys that can put the team on their shoulders and carry it,” Jenkins said. “And there’s not many guys like that that can actually do that.”
Jenkins has a phrase that he tried to instill in his players and grandchildren to this day — “Believe in yourself. Believe in your teammates.” Aside from natural athleticism and growing up in basketball families, Jenkins thinks it’s that belief that helped grow Doolittle and Manek’s confidence.
“If you don’t believe in yourself, you can’t get much done,” Jenkins said. “And you need to believe in your teammates. When the heat is on you’ve got to believe in yourself and believe in your teammates. And it’s just got to be ingrained in your brain and that’s how you play. That’s how you live your life.”
Doolittle and Manek’s time as teammates is coming to a close once again, as Doolittle finishes his senior year. They have been two of OU’s most important pieces this season, leading with experience, confidence and production and a chemistry fostered over a long career as teammates.
“They loved playing all the way through, but they had the energy level and the confidence to win games for you, tough games,” Jenkins said.
“And I think you see that at OU because there’s no easy games at that level. And those guys have just developed through the years a mental toughness and a chemistry together, and I think it’s shown through time.”
OU at Kansas
When: 11 a.m. Saturday
Where: Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kansas
TV: ESPN (Cox 29)
Radio: KRXO-FM 107.7