"Having been thrown into the fire early, I learned a lot," Manuel said. "I've learned more about the game and how to be mentally tough and how to fight through adversity.
"As long as we win, that's all that is important to me."
There is an unspoken pressure on his junior class that has had to endure the fall of one of the world's most recognizable basketball institutions. There's not much time left for Manuel, forward Jawad Williams and guard Melvin Scott to get their piece of the historical pie – once considered a birthright for any UNC basketball recruit.
"In some ways I feel [the urgency]," Manuel said, "but then in some ways I have to go into it like I do in every other season – relaxed, patient; and without putting too much pressure on myself or my teammates. My whole life, I've put pressure on myself. I want to come into this year and not put too much pressure on myself. I just want to relax out there and have some fun."
On the court, Manuel makes his living by being in the right place at the right time. His long-armed defensive pressure can wreak havoc on opposing guards and forwards, while his relentless athleticism puts him in position to score at any time.
But keeping his game under control day-to-day is his most difficult challenge. And developing his shot is a work in progress.
"I don't really know what my role is going to be this year," Manuel said. "I haven't really talked to the coaches about that. The only thing I want to do is win. I'm very happy that I made my decision to come here."
As a freshman, Manuel was blessed with the opportunity for early playing time at Carolina. The remnants of Bill Guthridge's recruiting classes were begging for the quickness that Manuel, Williams and Scott possessed. But 2001 was destined to be the Swan Song of Dean Smith recruits' Jason Capel and Kris Lang – old school relics of a dying regime.
While fans naturally expected a smooth changing of the guard after decades of inherited basketball success, few knew that the Tar Heels were about to embark on a debilitating rebuilding process – yet to be completed.
"It's always good to get playing time," Manuel said. "But when you're not ready, you're not ready; and my freshman year…I can tell you I was not ready."
"I'm very excited now," he said. "I know my teammates are and I know the fans are. I'm just ready to start playing and try to win a national championship. I don't have too many years left."
Manuel is arguably the best athlete on the team. He has worked hard during the off-season to get stronger physically, which has made him a more confident player.
"It's maturity," Manuel said. "You know what you have and what you have to do to win. I now know how to make sacrifices that will help me out in the end."