Many collegiate student-athletes transfer. But playing for three different schools, as Creighton senior men’s basketball center Manny Suarez has done, is unusual.
All four transfers on the CU team roster have a story. In the case of Suarez, he graduated early from Division II Adelphi University, where he landed after a year at Division I Fordham. Now the 24-year-old grad student is making the most of this last season of eligibility by playing for the Top 25 D-I Bluejays. Seeing spot duty, the 6-foot-10, 245 pounder adds a needed inside presence after 7-footer Justin Patton left for the NBA.
Suarez’s affable personality and street-smart swag fit well with diverse teammates from Omaha, Chicago, Kansas, New Hampshire, Slovenia and Australia.
Ironically, it took leaving the east coast – Suarez grew up in New Jersey and pursued higher education in New York – for a Great Plains school in order to play in the storied and rugged Big East Conference.
“My final journey as a collegiate athlete is here in the Midwest,” he said. “It’s a huge 180. But I love it here. I’m extremely blessed just because of the coaching staff and the great group of guys we have.”
Traveling isn’t new to him. He’s visited family in Spain since childhood. He intends one day going to Chile, South America, where he has more ancestral roots.
Just as those places are a world away, Omaha’s a long way from the New York City playgrounds he honed his game on. As a kid, soccer was his sport of choice. His father was a semi-pro player. Suarez would still be playing soccer himself if not for outgrowing the pitch.
Once he took to hoops, his uncle Vinny, an NYC playground legend, schooled him. He still gives pointers.
“Growing up, I always wanted to be like him,” Suarez said of his uncle. “He’s always lived his life to the fullest. He watched every single one of my games. To this very day he sends me text messages and calls, telling me I should have done something in the game better. I just love knowing he’s in my corner.”
Vinny informed his nephew that after graduating Adelphi he could still play one season of Division I ball.
“He was like, ‘I believe in you, you should transfer.’ He gave me the excitement and I went for it. I’m glad I did. I wanted to give myself another shot playing at a nice Division I school that has a great impact.”
Suarez said CU head coach Greg McDermott “laid it out for me by saying, ‘We’re looking for a one-time big that needs to scrap.”” Suarez also got interest from Georgetown but Creighton felt right. “My gut said come here. I’m glad I did. I fell in love here. I talked to family members to make the final decision,”
Suarez’s upbeat demeanor is the product of life mentors.
“I’ve learned to always stay positive no matter what happens because every dark tunnel, every bump, there’s always a light and clear path beyond. Certain parts of my life have been very hard and very rough, but there’s always going to be a new day. There’s always going to be another challenge. It’s fine – you’ve just got to fight through and keep going.”
His late Aunt Lory was an inspiration.
“One motto my aunt always said was. ‘If you don’t learn from your mistakes, then you’re just going to repeat them.’ If you learn from it, you’re going to improve as a person, as a player. You just find opportunities when they’re there. I’ve found a really great spot, a really great opportunity at Creighton. It’s a great university.
“It kind of stinks I only have one year here. I’m a one-and-done guy. But I’m just enjoying it.”
His biggest challenge at CU, he said, is adjusting to the up-tempo style (the Jays average 92 points per game)and more physical play.
“The pace is quicker and it’s much more aggressive. Every day, coach tells me I need to get into this pace. He tells me, ‘If you want to earn minutes, you’ve to to play our pace.’ He told me when he was recruiting me and he tells me now in practice – ‘you’ve got to adapt.’ And I am adapting. I’m getting much better at it.”
To aid in that process, he’s working hard on his endurance, strength and fitness.
Suarez’s work has earned him increased playing time. He notched season highs of 10 points and 2 blocks versus Maryland Eastern Shore (Dec. 15), 3 assists against Texas-Arlington (Dec. 18) and 9 rebounds against USC Upstate (Dec. 20), all CU home wins.
Now that Big East action is underway, he said, “My mindset is to just go out there and play my role and play as hard as I can. I’m not looking to do something tremendous. I’m just looking to play right, play hard, play together and just win. That’s all I want – just win.”
Going home to compete at legendary Madison Square Garden, where Big East foe St. John’s plays and the league post-season tourney is held, motivates him. As does the prospect of playing in the NCAA Tournament.
He has no regrets taking up basketball because of the many places it’s already taken him.
“I love playing the game. It’s been a great experience. It gives me an opportunity to travel, to meet new people, see new faces and experience new cultures.”
With a sports management degree in hand and a master’s in health and wellness on the horizon, Suarez hopes to conduct nutrition clinics one day – but not before he gives pro ball a shot. Overseas basketball could even make his dream of living in Spain a reality.
Follow Manny and the Jays at www.facebook.com/BluejayMBB.
Read more of Leo Adam Biga’s work at leoadambiga.com.