Rock Chalk Weekly: A Rising Talent

Written by Casey Craig, Kansas Communications Student Assistant

As the Kansas women’s basketball team progresses during the 2014-15 season so does one of its underclassmen, sophomore forward Caelynn Manning-Allen. Despite the loss to the Lady Bears early on in Big 12 play, one of the positives to come out the contest was Manning-Allen who tallied 24 minutes, pulled down eight rebounds, scored six points and blocked two shots. What makes this and every Manning-Allen performance special is that she only began playing organized basketball six years ago.
In a society dominated by youth sports and club teams that begin at ages three or four, it’s quite amazing the Manning-Allen never had the opportunity to play organized basketball as a child, yet this is where Manning-Allen found herself growing up. Instead she was introduced to the game by those closest to her, her brothers, Cliff and Renaul.
“It was always a part of my life, but I hadn’t had the opportunity to play, because the elementary school I transferred to didn’t have a basketball team,” said Manning-Allen. “I kept myself busy by playing with my brothers. It wasn’t real formal. It was just shooting around with my brothers in the backyard.”
When she began her freshman year at Curie High School in Chicago, Illinois, though, she didn’t start playing basketball.  Her first sport was volleyball, but once the basketball coaches saw how tall she was and her athletic ability Manning-Allen started playing the sport that had always been a part of her life and improving at the game quickly.
“Once I started to get better at basketball and once people started to recognize me for playing basketball, that’s when I really wanted to practice as hard as I could, so that I could go to college,” said Manning-Allen. “At that time I was starting to get recruited and I thought to myself, ‘Wow. This is crazy. People actually want me to come to their school.’ I didn’t think I was that good. That’s why I wanted to continue to play so I could come to a college as prestigious as KU.”
At Curie, Manning-Allen earned first-team all-city and first-team all-conference in 2012 and 2013, while being named the 2012 Chicago Public League Player of the Year. During her junior year, Manning-Allen averaged 16 points, 12 rebounds and five blocked shots per game. It was during this season that Manning-Allen recognized how far she had already come in a short time and the opportunities it would give her.
“It made me look at  (basketball) in a bigger aspect of everything else,” said Manning-Allen. “I would be the first person in my family to go to a huge college. I’d be the first to possibly go pro and support my family. It really just opened my eyes.”
Manning-Allen wasn’t the only one to see her talent and potential. Kansas’ head women’s basketball coach Bonnie Henrickson described how quickly the recruitment process occurred once her staff identified Manning-Allen as a recruit they were interested in having become a Jayhawk.
“We actually got in late [in the recruiting process] with her,” said Henrickson. “I went up and watched a high school workout, because I hadn’t seen her. It all happened fast because I didn’t see her until September and she ended up signing in November. With her skillset, size, the burning desire that she wanted to get better and her ability to be coached,
I felt that she could help us with her size, length, ability to run and good hands.”
While she was able to dominate the competition in high school with her natural athletic ability, at the next level Manning-Allen would be going up against the best players in the country week in and week out. Add that pressure to the normal transition a college freshman faces as well as having to learn the technical details of basketball, Manning-Allen had her work cut out for her.
“Before coming to college, I hadn’t received the (formal basketball) knowledge that I have learned now,” said Manning-Allen. “When I got here last year it was crazy. It was like a foreign language to me most of the time. It was frustrating because so many of my teammates came here already knowing so much about the game that I didn’t. There were just so many technical terms. It was mind-boggling.”
Henrickson echoed her forward’s thoughts.
“Sometimes I’ll watch her play and think, ‘She’s a sophomore in college; why is she struggling so much with this?'” said Henrickson. “Well she was exposed to it late, so she hasn’t had the sheer reps over the years that most student-athletes have had.”
From playing ball in the backyard with her brothers, to organized basketball at the high school and AAU levels to today, playing at a major Division I institution, Manning-Allen had many people on her side to help her. She attributes her shooting success to the guidance of assistant coach Katie O’Connor. Through 16 games this season Manning-Allen is averaging two more minutes, one more rebound and is shooting 21.2 percent better than her freshman year (2013-14).
In the weight room, Manning-Allen works with strength and conditioning coaches Andrea Hudy and Glenn Cain, Jr., to get stronger physically in order to go up against other forwards around the league and country. The most helpful though, have been those who introduced her to the game– her family.
“They have always been in my corner supporting me. They tried as much as they could to make me better and tougher,” said Manning-Allen. “The times that I do workout with my brothers they are really hard on me, which I feel has made me better, too.”
It’s this work ethic and desire to succeed that convinced Henrickson and her staff to take a chance on Manning-Allen even though she lacked experience. In turn, the 6-foot-4 forward is taking every opportunity she can to improve herself and Henrickson notices.
“She recognizes and understands that there are things she wasn’t exposed to until late in life and that she hasn’t played as long.” Henrickson explained. “She also understands the focus she needs, in ‘If I haven’t been exposed to this as much, it will not be as natural and my habits won’t be as good.’ From an effort and energy and passion for the game (standpoint), I think all of those are really positive for her.”
The burning desire that Henrickson described in Manning-Allen has been the one of the main factors to Manning-Allen’s success so far in her young relatively new basketball career. It’s how she connected with her family. Her raw talent, paired with continued guidance and hard work, the sport could ultimately allow her to take her life in any direction she wants.
“At first I played [basketball] because it was something that was really fun. And it was something to keep me out of trouble,” Manning-Allen concluded. “But now that I’ve been at KU, I’ve had the opportunity to see so many things, have so many doors opened for me. I feel like ‘this’ gets me mentally prepared for what I’m going to be facing when I go into the real world, off the court. Even if I decide to play basketball professionally, I feel like this experience is going to make me a better person. It has humbled me a lot.”

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