Rob Mansell hunched over as play continued on the other end of the Events Center floor. Hands on his thighs, the then-sophomore guard appeared to be out of breath, not in excruciating pain.
But as each step became increasingly harder to take, the training staff retrieved the team’s leading scorer and pulled him from Binghamton’s Feb. 23, 2012 loss to Albany.
Mansell suffered tears of the ACL, MCL and meniscus in his left knee on that day, forcing him out of the regular season finale, the team’s two postseason games and all of 2012-13. He hadn’t returned to the court until Saturday, when he posted a team-high 16 points in Binghamton’s 48-47 win over Bloomsburg.
Dempsey said last fall that Mansell, who averaged 14 points per contest as a sophomore, would probably be healthy enough to suit up for conference play. But the coach and player opted for a medical redshirt, which allowed Mansell to sit out for all of 2012-13 without losing a year of eligibility.
“I just don’t think [playing is] in his best interest,” Dempsey said in October 2012. “Although he would probably be able to go in in January and February, I just don’t think it’s the right thing to do as far as him wasting a lot of this year.”
After spending 20 months on the bench, Mansell’s had to suit up with a slew of new faces. Only three players from the 2011-12 team appear on this year’s roster. But Mansell, who has practiced with the team since last fall, said he won’t need much time to gel with his fellow Bearcats.
“We’ve been up here pretty much year-round so it hasn’t been that difficult,” Mansell said. “We’ve been up here both summer sessions, playing pickup. With the new rules that we can start earlier, that’s helped a lot.”
Pairing with sophomore guard Jordan Reed, who ranked second in the America East with 16.6 points per game last year, Mansell won’t have as much of a burden on his shoulders as he did in 2011-12.
“I just see it as I was before, not really carrying as big of a load, but still going to be aggressive,” Mansell said. “I worked a lot on my ball handling, my shooting. My vision has gotten increasingly better. I’m still going to attack. I’m still going to do the things I did back in 2011-2012.”
In addition to his scoring, some of those things included collecting 3.3 rebounds a game, shooting 39.6 percent from the floor and following just Jimmy Gray in 3-point accuracy at 30.4 percent. Mansell actually upped his numbers in conference play, with 14.8 points per game on 42 percent shooting.
”Everyone’s excited about Reed, but Mansell’s a real good player,” Stony Brook head coach Steve Pikiell said. “He scores in a lot of different ways. I mean, Reed gets to the rack like no one’s business but that kid scores in a lot of different ways. Mansell’s really good, and he’s proven he’s really good. So I think he’s going to be as big a help as anybody. He would have been their best player [last year].”
That’s a statement, given Reed’s prowess as just a freshman. Either way, Mansell and Reed will have to play off each other this season.
“[Reed and I] play on opposite wings, so we won’t get in the way of each other too much,” Mansell said. “In practice I think we’ve been playing pretty well together.”
Reed said that things were rocky at first, but that they smoothed out as practice continued.
“In the beginning parts, when coach was trying to figure out different rotations and stuff, he had us mixed up,” Reed said. “But now we’ve been playing together, and we’re just getting more comfortable with each other and understanding what situations we do best in.”
“If we need threes,” Mansell said, “I think I’ll take those. If we need people getting to the line or driving, I think we’ll go to Jordan.”
So, ostensibly, the main concern right now is a positive one — with Mansell, Reed and the rest of Dempsey’s recruits sharing the floor, Binghamton will see more options on the offensive end, and there won’t be just one Bearcat for the opponent’s defense to pick out.
“They’re both big, strong guards. And I think that gives us some physicality at those positions,” Dempsey said. “Because we’re not really a big team inside, we don’t have a lot of depth with our post players. But I do think we have depth with the guards; I think Rob and Jordan together will give us some bigger, physical guards that can both rebound the ball, so that takes some pressure off our big guys.”
And that, in turn, will have a pretty visible effect on their opponents’ defensive tactics.
“When you have to defend against multiple, talented offensive players, it makes your job harder as an opposing team,” UNH head coach Bill Herrion said. “Like maybe last year with Jordan Reed … obviously he had the ball a lot, and you could kind of maybe zeroed in on him defensively. Now when you add another talented offensive player around a kid like him, like Mansell, they’re just going to be a better offensive team.”
Some might be concerned about Mansell’s knee itself, but according to Dempsey and Mansell, that’s not even a point of discussion anymore. Mansell no longer wears a brace and says he never even thinks about the knee.
All that’s left for Mansell is to get back into a regular season game. As it’s drawing nearer, the redshirt junior said he is growing increasingly excited.
“Every day at practice I’m so eager to get back out there,” Mansell said. “I’m so sick of practice. I just want to play a game. I can’t wait.”