Jaylen Mann will take the step from high school to the NCAA Division II level in basketball next season.
In a perfect world there's another step to follow for the Liberty High School senior.
Mann was recently awarded a full scholarship to further his academic and athletic skills at Pace University, which is located about 20 minutes north of New York City. As he looks ahead to what might transpire in the next couple of seasons, Mann still clings to his ultimate dream.
Tribune Chronicle file photo / R. Michael Semple
Liberty senior Jaylen Mann brings the ball upcourt during a Feb. 1 game against Salem. Mann recently signed with Pace University near New York City.
"Getting a Division II scholarship is fine for me," Mann said. "But if a D-I school wants me to transfer, I will transfer. I've always wanted to play D-I, but I'm happy with what I've got."
The 6-foot-4 Mann was one of the area's elite players last season. He averaged 19.6 points and 12 rebounds for the Leopards.
Mann's ability to handle the basketball and run the floor was enticing to Pace coach Jim Harter, son of late NBA coach Dick Harter. Mann might have had more attention from Division I programs, but his lack of experience playing AAU basketball hurt his cause.
"If he had played AAU, which is where scouts look at you, I think he could have played Division I," Leopards coach Dan Bubon said. "Coach Harter said he can't get kids like Jaylen, who are 6-4 and can dribble down the floor and shoot it or dunk it. He feels this area is under-recruited for basketball."
There are no AAU teams in this area. To play on an AAU team area players have to find transportation to Cleveland or Akron.
Mann made certain to take advantage of his senior season. He knew he needed to spread his name beyond the borders of Trumbull County if he was going to be able to play on the next level.
Bubon, who was in his first year as coach at Liberty last season, facilitated Mann's development by using him in a more varied manner. Instead of posting low most of the time, Mann often handled the ball against pressure and ran the offense from the point guard spot.
There was no hesitation by Mann when asked which position he enjoys playing the most.
"If I could play point guard," he said. "But most likely I'll play the 2 or the 3. I had to be inside a lot (at Liberty) because I was taller than everybody. Coach Bubon helped me because he expanded my game more by letting me play point guard or the two (shooting guard) or the three (small forward), and I would go down low."
Bubon is realistic when projecting how Mann might be used by Harter next season.
"Coach thinks if he comes in and works that he'll be in the rotation as a freshman, but he probably won't start," Bubon said. "It's a great opportunity for him."
Mann is like most teenagers embarking upon a new experience. There isn't a wall big enough to impede his ambitions.
"I don't plan on sitting the bench my freshman year," Mann said. "I want to start. I'm going to earn my minutes."
Mann hasn't declared a major, but he knows he wants to be involved with sports in some capacity. He enjoys working with people and has considered becoming a sports trainer.
Mann hasn't given up on his dream of playing in the NBA. While the odds are against most college athletes, Mann doesn't want to think he can't make the big time.
"I have dreams beyond (college)," he said. "I can't see myself not playing basketball. I want to play basketball until I'm 60. I think I'm realistic about it. If I don't play basketball I will do something that has to do with it. Coach or something."
Bubon believes that Mann must first add weight and strength to take his game to another level.
"He has to get stronger," Bubon said. "If he had gone to Division I he wouldn't have played the first year because he's pretty skinny. His shooting improved and that will get better. Last year we had him at point guard at the end of the year. He has good experience inside and outside, which is probably what he'll do. When he gets stronger, that will make a difference in college."
Mann will get a taste of college basketball at its best at the start of next season. Pace opens the campaign in the Carrier Dome against perennial national power Syracuse.
Some of his friends are already thinking about making the trip.
"Everybody told me they want to come and watch that," he said. "I don't think it's for me. It's for Syracuse."
Mann's only regret in high school was not scoring 1,000 career points. He should get plenty of opportunities to start a new point total in college.
"He (Harter) told me I have to come in there and earn my minutes," Mann said. "Nothing will be given to me. I have to earn it by doing what I do best and play basketball."