Ty Daubert (@TyDaubert)
WEST CHESTER -- Jamil Manigo and Robert Smith could be found on a basketball court together since they were little kids. Why would it be any different as they entered college?
Teammates from childhood through high school, the two have been together for the long haul. Now playing their first season at Division II West Chester, both Manigo and Smith have found themselves to be key contributors for a Golden Rams team that’s off to a 4-0 start after defeating Chestnut Hill on Tuesday night at Hollinger Field House.
Jamil Manigo (above) is West Chester's leading scorer at 14.7 ppg. (Photo: Ty Daubert/CoBL)
“That’s my brother,” Manigo said of Smith. “That’s my brother, man. Dynamic duo, that’s what they call us.”
Manigo and Smith began playing together when they were five years old — “When we were throwing the ball out of bounds by accident because we didn’t know what the plays were,” Manigo joked — and have continued ever since. The duo played for Bishop McDevitt in high school with each other, seeing a great deal of success before graduating in 2020.
Both players were named first-team All-Catholic League as seniors, and Manigo (1,106) and Smith (1,203) eclipsed 1,000 career high school points under head coach Will Chavis, now an assistant at Drexel. The players take pride in coming from McDevitt, which closed following last school year, and enjoy being able to represent their alma mater at the next level.
“I was kind of bummed our school closed down with all the success we had when we came out and graduated,” Smith said. “We’re just trying to keep that same spirit again come college time and keep that hope in McDevitt.”
Added Manigo: “We were hoping to get our names on the (1,000-point scorers) banner, finally, for our high school, but, seeing it got shut down, we couldn’t see that. But we look to keep the success going here and make sure we can build a legacy.”
After being enrolled at West Chester last year but not having a basketball season, the pair of (on-court) freshmen has been a major factor to start this season, joining the rotation from the jump. Between preparation for college from Chavis and a chance to practice and work out with the team last year, they felt ready to help the team right away.
“Once we came in, we already knew what the agenda was,” Smith said. “Doesn’t matter if we start or come off the bench, just contribute and impact the game any way possible. So that’s what we’re doing right now.”
Manigo, a 6-foot-5, 260-pound forward, has started three of the Rams’ first four games, missing the other with an injury. He's averaging a team-high 14.7 points per game as he’s able to bang inside but also stretch his game beyond the 3-point arc.
Robert Smith (above) has been serving as a terrific sixth man for WCU, averaging 14.5 ppg. (Photo: Ty Daubert/CoBL)
The 6-foot-1 Smith has been a primary reserve guard for West Chester in all four games, averaging 14.5 points, second on the team, with five total steals so far this season.
They’ve excelled in their roles to this point, surrounding players such as starters Matt Dade (14.3 ppg), Kyle McGee (13.5), Josh Samec (12.3) and bench big Marcus Littles (5.5).
“They’re special, man,” West Chester head coach Damien Blair said of his young standouts. “I mean, you don’t get two freshmen that are as good as those two kids. Both of them, I think, were low Division I athletes, and in order for us to be successful -- or any team to be successful -- in this league, you have to get those types of kids. We were fortunate enough to grab two of them.”
Manigo and Smith's impact was apparent in Tuesday’s 97-80 win over Chestnut Hill. While Smith had his least productive game of the year scoring-wise, tallying six points on 2-for-10 shooting from the field, he provided a spark upon first coming off the bench. He almost immediately grabbed a steal and layed in a fast-break opportunity on his way to a three-steal night.
Manigo, on the other hand, hit two late 3s during a 12-point performance, the latter of which helped ice the game as he nailed a shot well beyond the arc while drawing a foul to put the Rams up 13 with 1:38 to play. Both players brought a noticeable energy as West Chester broke away from a previously back-and-forth game.
“That chemistry is unmatched,” Blair said. “And I think that’s why we’re having some success early on. It’s because they’re familiar with each other.”
There’s still room for growth for Manigo and Smith in the Rams’ pursuit of a Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) title. Their games will continue to develop, and Blair would like to see the two step up as leaders in the West Chester locker room. Those things should come with time as they continue getting more experience.
Regardless of how soon that additional progress takes shape, the two longtime teammates are glad to still be on the journey alongside one another.
“We’ve been playing together for a long time,” Manigo said. “So just to keep doing it, keep working is special.”