Arizona freshman Nico Mannion is entering the 2020 NBA draft, he told ESPN on Tuesday.
Mannion, the No. 14 prospect in the ESPN Top 100, is considered one of the top point guards in this draft class, averaging 14 points and 5.3 assists per game for the Wildcats this season while being named to the All-Pac-12 second team.
The 6-foot-3 playmaker was identified as a standout early in his career. He was invited to three USA Basketball camps as a 15- and 16-year-old before ultimately committing to play for the Italian national team at the U16 European Championship, in which he averaged 20 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists in just 28 minutes. Mannion holds dual citizenship, having been born in Siena, Italy, while his father, Pace Mannion, an NBA draft pick in 1983, was playing professional basketball there.
Mannion also spent time with the Italian senior national team as part of its FIBA World Cup qualifying campaign in the summer of 2018, playing 30 minutes in a game against the Netherlands despite being only 17 years old. After he was named to the McDonald’s All-American Game in March 2019, he burst onto NBA radar screens with a 28-point, 5-rebound, 5-assist performance in 27 minutes at the Nike Hoop Summit in April, in front of the watchful eyes of dozens of NBA decision-makers.
“My international experience will be a big plus,” Mannion told ESPN. “Having played international ball at the U16s and against pros with the men’s team. I think I proved that I belonged at the Hoop Summit, that I’m one of the best pure point guards in this draft. People saw prior to college that I can really shoot the ball, even if I didn’t shoot as well as I can this season at Arizona.”
Mannion’s basketball IQ, deep range and passing creativity should make for a seamless transition to the modern NBA game, despite some concerns about his defensive projection due to his narrow frame. He has good size for a point guard and likely will continue to add bulk since he just turned 19 three weeks ago.
Mannion told ESPN he is currently preparing for the draft back home in Arizona, where he has access to a private gym and weight room thanks to a family friend.
“I’m just trying to stay positive right now handling what’s going on worldwide with the [coronavirus] with my preparations for the draft,” Mannion said. “It’s hard because you don’t have a specific day or workout to look forward to. It could be one, two, three months or more, who knows? Our state is on lockdown, but I am really lucky to have access to a gym near my house where I can lift and shoot. No one uses the facility except me. I’m just getting reps every day trying to perfect what I can perfect on and off the court, be it passing, ballhandling or ball-screen drills, and trying to get stronger. I’m working on extending my range. This time off gives us me an opportunity to get better. That’s where I have a little bit of an advantage. I’m watching a lot of film on Steve Nash and Chris Paul. How they use ball screens to get in the lane and finish with floaters.”
Mannion’s mother, Gaia, was born and played professional volleyball in Italy, one of the countries hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic. She still has family living there.
“Our family has been in lockdown over there for weeks. My mom talks to them every day,” Mannion said. “It’s weird to declare for the draft right now, but everyone else is going through the same thing. There’s no pity party. It is what it is. The virus is bigger than anything, but individually, we all have to do our part. We just have to stay safe and listen to the rules that are being given. If everyone follows the rules, everything will take care of itself.”