Learn. Learn a lot. Learn fast.
You don’t have to look far to find the word that best sums up Montrealer Karim Mané’s first media appearance since signing a contract with the Orlando Magic in the NBA.
The 20-year-old basketball player has indeed said it no less than seven times, in French as in English, during a flash press briefing dictated by his breathless flow.
The point is, Mané doesn’t have much time to show his new bosses what he’s capable of.
Barely three weeks have passed since the NBA Draft took place, in which he was ignored by all 30 teams on the circuit. It wasn’t much of a surprise to him, as he already had a verbal arrangement with the Magic.
Still, three days later, he was packing for Orlando. The team’s training camp began last week. The first preseason game will be on Friday. And the season will kick off in earnest on December 22.
“The biggest challenge is learning in the very short period of time you have,” Mané told members of the media Wednesday afternoon.
“Because of COVID-19, there has been no real offseason or summer league. First of all, I have to get used to the speed at which the game is played at this level. After that, it will be okay. ”
“I want to improve myself in everything I do,” he set himself as an ambitious short-term goal. He makes the list: his pace, his decision-making, his shooting. “Stay aggressive, but efficient,” he sums up. Quite simply, he wants to “become 1% better every day”.
“So that at the end of the season, I am a different player, the player I want to be. ”
According to Steve Clifford, Magic trainer, these are not empty words.
Accessing the NBA “is a big adjustment”, first warned Clifford, before describing Karim Mané as “a phenomenal worker, very bright, who brings a high level of energy on the field”.
“The first few weeks are tough for all young players, but he’s doing a very good job,” he said.
It is impossible to talk about Karim Mané without recalling his extraordinary career.
Arrived in Quebec with his family when he was only 7 years old, this native Senegalese was introduced to basketball only at the start of high school. Not even a decade later, here he is among the pros, after having made the jump directly from the Quebec collegiate ranks, becoming suddenly the first to achieve the feat.
The former Vanier Cegep says he is very proud of this achievement, he who decided to stay in the metropolis rather than move to the United States to join a basketball academy or a high school where he would have benefited from ‘a better showcase for NBA recruiters. He also surprised everyone by turning down offers from American universities last spring.
“I wanted to be the first to [accéder à la NBA] by staying in Montreal, he said. Growing up, as I started to take basketball seriously, I didn’t see anyone do it. I think it can give young people courage. “
I wanted to set the tone, to show that we don’t need to leave Quebec to get where we want. If you work and put in the effort, you can do it.
A little piece of Montreal awaited him all the same when he arrived in Orlando, since his compatriot Khem Birch has played with the Magic for three seasons.
The 28-year-old center quickly took Mané under his wing. “My parents felt more [à l’aise] to know that someone in town was waiting for me, a veteran I could trust, ”he said.
” [Birch] was a big help: he told me how the team was, told me about the league, took care of me, listed the young man. Otherwise, I trust guys like Evan Fournier or Michael Carter-Williams, who talk to me a lot in training, on the pitch and on the sidelines. They tell me what to expect when it’s going to be real games and what I need to do to become a better player. ”
Even if logic dictates that Mané reports to the Magic school club in Lakeland, in the G-League, his first days with the best in his profession have confirmed to him that he can “play and excel at this level”.
“I have my place here,” he assures, inspired by Montrealers Luguentz Dort and Chris Boucher who, before him, “have proven to many people that they were wrong” to look up on Quebecers.
For now, “I can’t ask for anything better,” he admits.
In closing, a colleague asked him if he missed the Montreal winter.
“Not yet,” he replied, sketching a rare smile.