Let’s get the obvious comparison out of the way: At 6-4 and 180 pounds, quick, slender and elusive, with that no-joke, as-soon-as-he-steps-over-halfcourt range, Tre Mann will inevitably remind you of a pretty well-known NBA player. It doesn’t hurt the analogy that Mann’s dad was a serious hooper in his day, and that his mom was a pretty good volleyball player. How could he not be compared to Chef Curry? In fact, he’s been inspiring that comparison for years.
“They used to call me Little Steph Curry, and I ain’t gonna lie—in seventh grade, that was my favorite player,” Mann says now. “I used to wear his shirts in warmups. It’s not like I went out trying to play like him, but I was always a shooter, and I was just crafty like that, so they gave me the name, started calling me Baby Curry.”
That was six years ago, but on a lot of levels, the analogy still holds up. Quietly swaggy and hyper-confident in a shot he can create at any time and hit from anywhere, Mann is one of the most dangerous scorers in the 2019 class. No, he’s not on that elite level just yet, but Colt McDowell, Mann’s high school coach at The Villages (FL) Charter School, isn’t afraid of mentioning his star player in the same breath as the Warriors’ two-time MVP.
“I’ve always compared him to Steph Curry, and I know growing up, that was the guy he really admired and looked up to,” McDowell says. “I don’t know if he patterned his game after him, but I think it’s kind of grown organically. He shoots really well off the dribble, getting people off balance and pulling up, shooting in transition.”
Now a McDonald’s All-American and top-10 senior point guard prospect, Mann has only built on that foundation. Assessing his game now, Mann says he’s expanded his skill set by borrowing not only from Curry’s arsenal, but from guys like D’Angelo Russell, Bradley Beal and Devin Booker. “I think my game has increased to where I can get to the hole, finish, use my athleticism, so I’ve got certain players I try to play like, study and watch ’em,” Mann says. “I feel like I’m at my best when I shoot off the dribble, create my own shot.”
McDowell concurs with his player’s self-assessment. “As a complete player, I think Beal’s a good comparison,” the coach says. “Offensively, Tre can get you 40 if you need ’em, but if you put the right pieces around him, he can also have 20 and 10, or 30 and 15 just as easily. The way he passes the ball, the way he handles the ball, I think it’s going to really bode well at the next level.”
He showed plenty of all that during his prep career at The Villages, where McDowell says he shot 40 percent or better from three-point range all four years, and better than 50 percent from the floor. This spring, he led the Buffalo to a 23-8 record and the state semifinals, where they finally bowed out to the defending state champs from University School. Mann led the way, averaging 24 ppg on the season.
His high school coach has had the chance to watch Mann’s evolution up close, and McDowell is as impressed as anyone. “He was always very talented, but it’s been very cool to watch who he’s become, because he’s done it by grinding, putting in the work in the gym,” McDowell says. “God blessed him with some incredible athleticism, and some features—being 6-4, being long, being able to really jump—but Tre worked for a lot of stuff. When he was in ninth grade, he was a good player, but not to the level he is now, and every bit of what he’s got, he’s earned. It’s very well deserved.”
Among the things Mann has earned: a scholarship to Florida, where the Gainesville native (who played his high school ball about an hour south of his soon-to-be college home) was hailed as a “Hometown Hero” when he signed. Growing up, he says, “I was always a Florida fan. But once other people started offering me, I couldn’t be a Florida fan—I had to look at everywhere.” He says that changed once he signed on with UF coach Mike White and the Gators. “Once I committed, they gave me the ‘Hometown Hero’ name,” Mann says. “The coaches were telling me that the whole time, that I could be the hometown hero.”
It’s a fitting destination for a dude who can tell you about seeing an actual alligator not far from where he lives. As one of the key pieces of what’s shaping up to be a top-10 recruiting class at UF, Mann says he’s focused on producing a memorable—and crowd-pleasing—freshman season. “What can people expect next year?” he asks. “Just a lot of excitement. I’m gonna try to have a lot of highlight plays, and hopefully get a lot of wins.” He’ll get some help from fellow McDonald’s All-American, Scottie Lewis, a top-15 wing, and top-50 big man Omar Payne, both of whom will join him in Gainesville next year.
He’ll get his chance soon enough to boost a program that won 20 games and made the second round of the NCAA Tournament this spring. For now, he’s got the summer to prep for the challenges of SEC play. His high school coach still sees room for Mann to improve, but he makes clear there are no gaping holes in his point guard’s game. “Tre doesn’t lead as much vocally as I would like at times, but he does it when things get hard,” McDowell says. “Most people get quiet in those situations, when things aren’t going well, but he’ll step up and talk. And he always leads by example.”
Mann describes his focused on-court demeanor succinctly: “I just hate losing.” Off the court, though, he says, “I’m pretty funny, I joke around a lot, I like to dance. I just like being with my family, my teammates, my friends. I’m just a people person.”
For his part, McDowell is just excited to watch the best player he’s ever coached shine on a bigger stage.
“He loves the game, and he loves competing. And I think when you see him, that’s just how he plays—all out, doesn’t really know any other way, like he’s got something to prove. He’s gonna compete, fight, scrap, claw, keep going at you. That’s just how he plays,” McDowell says. “I’ve said for a long time, Tre just chose to play basketball. If he played football, if he played baseball, if he was in the band, whatever he decides to do, he’d be really good at it. If he stays humble and stays hungry and lets the results take care of themselves, he’ll be where he wants to be.”
Ryan Jones is a Contributing Editor at SLAM. Follow him on Twitter at @thefarmerjones.
Portraits by Joseph L. Sherman.