He let it go.
Behind-the-back dribble – smooth. Crossover – no sweat. Hesitate, juke and shake: check, check and check. Spider dribble – yeah, he's got that too. The 3-pointers look like pull-up jumpers from the paint. Like an average, diminutive guard, he operates the ball with a steady hand. He's slick, quick and has a sweet stroke.
So what makes Manuel Cass so special?
He's not even a guard.
He's a 6-foot-7 power forward. With extreme versatility, the senior from Carbondale High School was a staple of the 2004-2005 Terriers squad that turned in a 31-3 record and finished second in the state.
The combination of possessing a center's size and a guard's skills in high school is unique. But to pull it off with no trace of clumsiness and use it in a game is a rarity.
Carbondale assistant coach Michael Butler can attest to that. He's seen it.
"It's not often a high school coach can say his strongest player is also his fastest player is also his best shooter is also his best rebounder," Butler said. "On top of that, he's left-handed, 6-7 and runs like a gazelle."
STOP ME IF YOU CAN
On a Carbondale team oozing with talent last year, Cass was tops. All five starters averaged double figures in scoring. Cass put up about 16 points and six boards a game. Even though the scoring was dispersed, opponents had the most trouble stopping the lengthy, athletic forward.
They didn't know how to guard him.
"It's hard for big men to guard me," Cass said. "I'm quicker than them. It's hard for little guys too because I'm bigger than them. I use that to my advantage."
If the opportunity is there, Cass will seize it. Throw a smaller player on him, and Cass will use a repertoire of post moves to get the job done. His explosiveness, power and touch down low make smaller defenders feel impotent.
Plan B is to stick a similar body type on Cass. Search the lumber yard, find the tallest player available, and give him the daunting assignment of guarding one of the most mobile players in the state.
With his quickness, Cass can sky for a rebound. His speed and sticky handle can render the outlet pass useless. He'll beat the other team's big fella down the court for an easy bucket.
Glenbrook North's Jon Scheyer, a nationally heralded senior guard headed to Duke, has seen it all too many times. Scheyer is one of the few players who has played with Cass – on the AAU circuit with Larry Butler's Illinois Warriors, and against him – in the IHSA Class AA state championship game.
At first, Scheyer thought Cass would be a one-dimensional dunker. He was surprised to see the way Cass could pass and get the job done offensively. He'd rather have Cass on his squad then battle him. As a foe, he puzzles too many defenders.
"Against him, there's a ton of mismatches," Scheyer said. "He's 6-7 and as fast as our point guard, which causes a lot of problems."
MORE THAN OFFENSE
The only person who can consistently shut down Manuel Cass might be Manuel Cass. But when it comes to the type of players Manuel Cass can shut down, the list drags on.
It almost knows no bounds.
"He can guard anyone from a 7-footer to a 6-foot point guard," Scheyer said. "You're not going to find anyone in the state that can do that like Manuel can."
Much in the same way Cass uses his speed and long frame on the offensive end, he uses it to serve the same purpose defensively. He can stick a player on the wing and bang bodies down low.
It may seem with a tight game on both sides of the ball, that everyone has seen the best of the backbone of the Terriers. That's it. It's as good as he's going to get. Even keel.
Truth be told, there's much more to come. Michael Butler says even at this point, the public has only seen the surface as far as to what Cass can do.
"He still has a question mark of what he's capable of," Butler said. "What's scary is he's not totally there yet. A lot of coaches in college see that."
A NEW ROLE
For two straight years, Carbondale has made a trip to state. Cass played a role in the fourth place finish in 2003-2004 and an even larger one in 2004-2005 when the Terriers finished second.
During both trips, Cass was never the center of attention. Even during the 2004-2005 campaign in his junior year, Cass wasn't the star. He led the team in scoring and rebounds.
In the shadows on Josh Tabb, Ray Nelson and company, Cass silently got the job done.
With the other four starters graduated, he can't be silent anymore.
Cass knows things are different now. He won't be slipping under any team's radar. He wears the bull's-eye on his back. He'll handle the pressure and be the vocal leader his team needs.
He just wants everyone else to know he won't be doing it alone.
Just like last year when Tabb and Nelson transferred into Carbondale, the Terriers welcome three new players into the program this year. Joey Parker and Vince Mack from Centralia and Jordan Midequa from Egyptian will be making their debuts in black and white.
Just because the rest of the Terriers might not be getting any notoriety doesn't mean they won't contribute in a similar fashion as Cass used to.
"Only having one player known, people think we're not going to be competitive," Cass said. "I think we're going to be real competitive."
WHAT? YOU AREN'T HEARING THIS?
Larry Butler isn't sure why more colleges aren't drooling over Manuel Cass. He can't find any blaring weaknesses or many soft spots to his game. Butler sees a 6-7 player who can help a high-major school.
Some colleges have caught on. Butler said DePaul is all over Cass. Bradley, Xavier, Iowa, Southern Illinois, Indiana State and UNLV are just a few more schools looking to land the big man.
Still, Larry Butler thinks Cass should be drawing more attention than that, especially from the town of Champaign.
"I don't know why Illinois isn't recruiting him, to be honest," Larry Butler said. "There's no question. He's a Big Ten forward. He's the typical guy that can play in the Big Ten."
Cass knows why some attention is floating over his head. He isn't in the big cities. People look at Chicago and Peoria as all the state has to offer for talented basketball players.
"I want to go out and show people I'm not just a basketball player from Southern Illinois," Cass said. "Everyone thinks there are no good ball players here (because)… it's not like the inner-city Chicago."
If Cass is on a mission, he will have a multitude of ways to prove himself. A successful run on the AAU circuit this summer saw his stock skyrocket. Another return trip to state wouldn't hurt the cause, either.
Butler said Cass hasn't qualified yet academically and will likely wait until the spring signing period before he lets the ink flow. Butler said at that time, Cass will be the best available prospect in the entire state.
"Whoever gets him is going to get a jewel," Larry Butler said. "His better days of basketball are ahead."
Get Ready for Manuel Cass to Explode
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