Manuel ready to dust off title ring

Each week, we’ll try to catch up with someone involved with the Tar Heels program – be it a former coach, player, or member of the team. Curious about someone in particular? Email me at bylinerp@gmail.com.

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -– Jackie Manuel hasn’t worn his national title ring since 2005, the year he helped North Carolina win the NCAA championship.

“But I’ve seen the coaches with theirs during games, so I might have to think about getting mine back out,’’ he said, laughing.

After all, he is now a coach, too.

After playing four years in the NBDL, a few weeks in Argentina and most recently in Japan, Manuel has officially retired – and was named UNC’s assistant strength and conditioning coordinator last week.

“I’ve had the itch [to coach] for three, almost four years now,’’ said Manuel, a defensive stopper who averaged 5.5 points and 2.8 rebounds his senior season. “It was one of those things, when I first left school, people said I would make a good coach, but I sort of ran away from it. Then, a few years ago, I started to realize, ‘Man, this is something I want to do. I can actually affect kids in a positive way.’’’

Manuel, who lives in the Chapel Hill area with his wife and 3-year-old daughter, actually started talking to UNC coach Roy Williams about the idea of a career switch several years ago. He had planned to play professionally one more season. But with the NBA lockout also having an effect on opportunities overseas, he said, he figured now was the time to make his move.

He didn’t know if he’d have a chance to start his new career at his alma mater, so when Williams told him and Bobby Frasor (a guard on the 2009 national title team, who was named assistant video coordinator last week) about their six-month appointments to their respective new jobs, Manuel was thrilled.

“When Coach pulled us aside and told us, me and Bobby just looked at each other like, ‘Are you serious?’’’ Manuel said. “The last guys that played for Coach Williams, and then were hired to work for him, were Coach [Jerod] Haase and C.B. [McGrath, who are both current assistants] … and that was in the late ‘90s. So it means a lot.”

Williams said the way Manuel played lays the foundation to make him a good coach.

“Jackie was one of the best perimeter defenders I’ve ever been around, and was able to sacrifice in so many areas to fit into what the team needed,’’ Williams said. "And that’s what you have to do to be part of a good coaching staff, is figure out what you can add.”

Manuel said his main duties, for now, will be working with players in the weight room and helping to stretch them on the court -- as well as soaking up as much knowledge as possible from Williams and the rest of the staff.

He’s mastered one thing already: sounding like a coach.

Asked of his chances of winning a second national title ring with this year’s Tar Heels, who are currently ranked No. 1 and are a Final Four favorite, Manuel responded: “It’s a long season, and so many things can happen. I always reflect back to our season [in ‘05] – all the little things that happened, the wins and losses, that got us to the championship. … It is possible, this team definitely has the talent to do it. But you need a little luck, too.

"... I’m just happy to be a part of it.”

Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.