Manny Malou didn’t play sports growing up in Australia, preferring a notepad and pencil.
He was an artist, especially fond of inking figures from the popular Japanese animation television series “Dragon Ball Z.”
But at 14, Malou, who was born in Kenya, discovered basketball. He wasn’t quite 5-foot-10, but he was thrilled he could dunk, and his hoops odyssey was set in motion. Malou would need a lot of paper and pens to chart his world travels, including where basketball landed him Tuesday.
Malou, now 22 and 6-9, was one of six players the Kings brought to Sacramento for predraft workouts for coaches and team executives, including general manger Vlade Divac, director of scouting Mike Bratz and principal owner Vivek Ranadive. Just a week ago, the forward was in Oakland after the Golden State Warriors invited him to their facility.
Malou said he “fell in love” with basketball after he started dunking as a young teen. He broadened his game, improving his dribbling, passing and shooting enough to warrant an invitation by the Kings, Bratz said.
“I heard about him and he didn’t disappoint,” Bratz said. “He’s long and very athletic. He’s a little raw. He’s got some development to do, but he’s got a chance someday.”
Malou, slender and active with myriad skills, can shoot, but he’s considered an NBA long shot. Then again, being a long shot isn’t new for him.
He started playing basketball in high school after his parents moved to Australia, leaving poverty in Kenya. Malou kept growing, and growing his game, and attended a prep school in Connecticut. He moved back to Australia, but he returned to the United States to attend another prep school, in Des Moines, Iowa.
Eventually, he found his way to Yuba College because of coach Doug Cornelius’ connections. It’s not every day a 6-9 player shows up at a college such as Yuba, but it’s nothing new for Cornelius. Though Festus Ezeli only practiced with the team, Yuba was a launching pad for the Warriors center, who grew up in Nigeria and became an NBA prospect.
For Malou, playing basketball has been easy. Figuring out where he’ll earn a paycheck from the sport has been more difficult. Will he get drafted, sign with an NBA team as a free agent or play overseas?
“I had a lot of fun with these workouts and the whole process of this,” Malou said. “I’m taking everything one day at a time. I’m still not sure what to expect.”
Cornelius didn’t know what to expect when Malou arrived in Marysville. As a freshman at Yuba College in 2014-15, Malou averaged 14.7 points and 8.5 rebounds, and NBA scouts regularly attended games and practices. Cornelius said he’s been contacted by 15 NBA scouts regarding Malou.
“He has serious skills, can pass it, shoot it, he’s long, and can run, so you can see why NBA teams are enamored,” said Cornelius, who attended Tuesday’s workout. “Wish we had him a little longer.”
Malou played the first 14 games of his sophomore season, averaging 15.6 points and 8.4 rebounds, before leaving the team.
“We get back from Christmas break, and he’s no longer in school, just gone, suddenly attending a JC in Iowa,” Cornelius said. “It just got weird. He turned down so many major college programs – Kansas, Arizona – and signed with Iowa State, who got him to the JC. He’s a great kid, but a little naive. He’s taken advice from too many people, and it hasn’t always worked out.”
Malou, who attended Des Moines Area Community College but didn’t play there, decided last month to bypass Iowa State and declare for the NBA draft. He also hired an agent, making him ineligible under NCAA rules.
“I would have liked to have gone to Iowa State, to go to school, play, get better,” Malou said. “I am disappointed about that. But things will work out.”
Cornelius said Malou would have benefited from more college experience, but the coach backs his decision to go pro.
“People don’t understand how hard it’s been for him,” Cornelius said. “His parents escaped their country, by foot, for a better life, his mom pregnant. The kid’s been dirt broke, struggled to make ends meet when he was with us. He’ll get better, and he’s very polite, great manners, smart, talented. He’s worth a look.”
Malou said basketball has given him opportunities he never imagined when he would sit with a notepad as a child, when imaginations often run wild.
“Basketball has given me a lot,” he said. “I’ve been across the world, across America. I never thought I’d make it out here (in the United States). I’m here now. I’m having fun with it, doing the best I can.”