From sinking game-winning three pointers to being involved in the Nashville community, men’s basketball senior forward JJ Mann does it all.
“We have not had anybody who has done as much as JJ has in terms of being what a regular student is on this campus and just getting involved in so many organizations as he does,” said Belmont coach Rick Byrd.
The unconventional path that brought Mann to Belmont is a journey neither he nor coach Byrd take for granted.
Without any Division I scholarship offers following high school, Mann decided to attend Hargrave Military Academy for a postgraduate year in hopes of attracting college recruiters.
While several of his teammates at Hargrave already had scholarships waiting for them, Mann said he was one of seven or eight players on the court that were still trying to convince recruiters.
“We were working our tails off every day and did everything we could to get a coach to look at us,” Mann said.
After he decided he wanted to return home to the South, a recruiter from Colgate University in New York made a call to then-assistant coach Casey Alexander on behalf of Mann.
“I told him I wasn’t really trying to go up north,” said the Smyrna, Ga. native. “But he knew Coach Alexander and gave him a call for me. I can’t thank him a enough for that. That call led me here.”
Byrd made the trip to Hargrave, unsure how to utilize Mann as he already had another player in mind to fill the open scholarship slot.
“I actually went thinking that I had another player, probably ahead of JJ,” Byrd said. “I went in almost prejudiced against him because I liked this other guy. But JJ was obvious to me that he was the better player for our program.”
Once the forward arrived on campus, it didn’t take long for Mann to prove himself.
After making the Atlantic Sun All-Freshman Team during his first year, Mann progressed from bench player to starter his junior year.
“As guys graduated and moved on, he continued to move up in importance on our team,” Byrd said. “He’s at times definitely been our best player and most counted on offensive player.”
Mann quickly built a reputation as a strong three-point shooter especially in close game situations throughout his four years, most recently the win over North Carolina earlier this season.
His confidence in shooting the three is an intangible, reaffirming Byrd’s decision to ask Mann to come to Belmont.
“JJ has a knack for playing the game that can’t be taught. You’re born with it, and he’s got it,” Byrd said.
During his first three years, Mann averaged nearly 35 percent from behind the arc; so far in his final season, the forward has converted 47 three-pointers, including five against the Tar Heels on Nov. 17.
Mann also makes his presence known on the opposite side of the court, leading the team once again with 49 steals and 77 defensive rebounds this season.
Byrd credits Mann’s defensive ability to his preparation and anticipation of the game.
“He makes his steal on smarts, not on athleticism, quickness or anything else. He relies more on knowing the scouting report, what his opponent can do and understanding what’s most likely to happen next.”
Off the court, the economics major has earned several conference all-academic honors and remains involved in the Nashville community with programs such as the Best Buddies Program, Nashville Rescue Mission and serves as the men’s basketball representative on the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and a leader for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
“There are so many nice, awesome people out there and can really benefit from us taking time to show up and giving them love back for all the love they show us.”
Because of his involvement, Mann was invited to be a part of the Allstate NABC Good Works Team and participated in events at the 2013 Final Four in Atlanta.
“Honestly the best thing I got out of that was getting to meet other guys that also won the award,” Mann said. “Just seeing and hearing about their lives and other programs and what they do in their community. It’s inspiring honestly and encouraging. It made me want to do even more.”