When your from Boston and grew up with the legendary 80’s Boston Celtics that won 3 NBA titles and reached 2 more finals having the name Larry Bird in a conversation is about as prevalent as it is now having Steph Curry in the GOAT debate after he won his fourth NBA title. Larry Bird is my GOAT and even if most youngin’s would declare me as crazy for having this choice, I’m proud of it. It is no secret that the folk in Indiana are basketball crazy. Even if the sport was invented in Massachusetts, Indiana was actually one of the first places where it caught on. There is a reason for Hoosier Hysteria and due to the harsh winters, playing basketball inside was the thing to do. Plus Larry Bird comes form Indiana and made the town French Lick a household name in basketball circles in the late 70’s. I have interviewed many guys over the years that hail from the state Indiana that has given the United States the fifth-highest number of professional basketball players per capita of any state and has the nation’s second-largest automotive industry and I always like to bring up the name Larry Bird. For professional baller Kyle Mangas (193-G, college: IWU) who hails from Warshaw, the name Larry Bird is a term that he is very familiar with, but when playing a guessing game with me getting a very difficult question isn’t an easy one to solve. When I asked him where he would land if he drove about 220 miles south from Warshaw, he was a bit overcharged to exactly what I meant. ‘I would think you would land somewhere in southern Indiana. Maybe close to Kentucky’, wondered Kyle Mangas. When I cleared up the strange question that he would land in Larry Bird country, he had no difficulty reflecting on the great Larry Bird. ‘Obviously Larry Bird was on a level of his own, but I definitely tried to replicate some parts of his game. He can do it all. He can shoot, pass, dribble, rebound, cut, play in the post, and has a great competitive spirit about him. I try to work on all areas of my game so that I can be well-rounded and versatile. Being from Indiana, I think Larry and I really value the fundamentals of the game of basketball. I was too young to watch him play live, but I enjoy watching his highlights on Youtube’, stressed Kyle Mangas. He may not be the next Larry Bird, but he is an excellent player that once again proved that an NAIA player can not only reach the professional level, but can play at a high level. ‘I am very honored to be playing at a professional level. Coming from a small college, players like me often get overlooked and passed on because we did not play in the Division 1 spotlight. I am thankful that the USK Praha organization and Coach Josh King took a chance on me to come play for them. I also am grateful to have had some great teammates who I built friendships with. They really made helped me adjust to being in a foreign place for the first time. The NBL was a very solid league. It was hard for me to know what to expect coming in as a rookie, but I quickly realized how talented and skilled the league was. Every game in the league was ultra-competitive as many players have a high IQ and play a physical brand of basketball’, commented Kyle Mangas who’s GOAT isn’t Larry Bird but Lebron James.
It was early June 2022 when I got in contact with the Indiana native who lists LeBron, KD, Giannis, and Steph. Luka and Jokic on his current NBA Mount Rushmore and his past NBA Mount Rushmore would be MJ, Larry Bird, Magic, and Kareem. He just completed his rookie season in the Czech Republic and had an incredible season where he was the second top scorer in the top league there. After a first season overseas it is only obvious that he is really enjoying his time back home with family while also working out and training kids on the side. He was able to make his dream of playing overseas a reality by having an incredible NAIA career at Indiana Wesleyan University. He played there from 2017-2021 and finished averaging 24,0ppg, 5,0rpg and 3,0apg. He was able to improve his scoring, rebounding and assists each season. He didn’t leave school without racking up 4 titles including 3 Crossroads League titles, A NAIA title, won Crossroads League player of the year 4 times and was a first team selection 4 times. When you had so much success, it isn’t always easy picking one event that was most memorable. ‘As far as awards go, I would say winning our league MVP four years in a row. It is an extremely competitive league where anyone can beat anyone on any given night. I had some great coaches and teammates alongside of me for those four years, and they deserve just as much of the credit. Those years at Indiana Wesleyan were the most fun I had playing basketball and building relationships with my peers’, remembered Kyle Mangas. One could really have an argument as to what would be the more fitting middle name IQ or consistency as the great passer scored in double figures in 136 of 137 NAIA games. The one time he didn’t achieve it, he put up the big goose egg in only his second game against Aquinas College. ‘I will never forget that game against Aquinas College. I had an awful game as I believe I went 0-6 from the field and had 0 points. This prepared me for the rest of my career though because it showed me that whether you make a shot or miss a shot, whether you have the game of your life or the worst game of your career, you forget about it and move on to the next one. You can’t linger on past struggles when there are so many opportunities ahead to focus on. I think that’s the mindset that is necessary if you are a serious basketball and pursuing a career in it. That game was obviously disappointing but made me a lot mentally tougher. From that point on, I decided that I would have a short-term memory over whatever happened in the game, and it has really worked’, expressed Kyle Mangas. He scored 20 points or more 99 times, had 30 points or more 37 times and had 40 points or more 4 times. One really has to wonder what is in the food in Indiana or just what head coach Greg Tonagel’s secret was to helping him become such an incredible player. ‘Coach Tonagel is an incredible coach and mentor of mine. He taught me so much over my four years at Indiana Wesleyan, but the most important thing he taught me was about unselfishness. He has created a culture in his program where all your attention is on helping your teammates grow off of the basketball court and creating for them on the court. I learned from him that when you stop thinking about yourself, and instead, pour into other people, you end up being a lot more joyful. In basketball, when you are thinking of your teammates instead of yourself, you end up playing with a lot more freedom and joy’, remembered Kyle Mangas
The flashy guard who will never forget his shooting games in school with hard working and lights out shooting teammate Canaan Coffey who he says were always a toss up and recently played in Malta began his professional career overseas with USK Praha (Czech Republic-NBL). His success in the NAIA was no fluke as he right away tasted success as a rookie helping reach the playoffs. After winning a hard fought playoff series against NH Ostrava, he next faced Opava, but the team ran out of gas in the deciding third game losing by 16 points. ‘Opava was a tough series. They are one of the best teams in the league and most of their players have played together for a long time, so their team chemistry is incredible. I would say they are the most physical team that I have ever played, and they made me a better player because of it. I actually was injured in that series and only played the first 3 games of it. Opava was up 2-1 at that moment. I ended up not being able to play any more games because of my injury which was upsetting. I wish I could have helped my teammates try to make a run at taking down Opava but it just did not work out. However, my first taste of European playoff basketball was awesome. The environment and crowds were so loud and the arenas had a lot of energy’, remembered Kyle Mangas. He also had great moments in the regular season where he tested his qualities against top team Nymburk. Even if his team had no chance in all 4 games losing by an average of 24 points, he was always able to hold his own and score in double figures. He even exploded for 31 points in one of the loses. That game definitely put him on the map in Europe. ‘Nymburk was a very good team. Their resume of winning so many league championships in a row speaks for itself, and they play in the Champions League as well so they are competing against some of the best teams across Europe. Though we were never able to beat them, it was a great experience for me to see how I stacked up against a team of this caliber. I did have some good individual performances against Nymburk which I think showed that even as a young player, I can produce solid numbers and compete at a high level in Europe. For me, I feel like the better competition that I play, the level of my own game rises as well’, stated Kyle Mangas.
One real tough competitor that he faced in his rookie season was American Jerrick Harding who had a stellar NCAA career at Weber State, He played two incredible season’s for Nymburk and will make the next step this season in a higher league. He is a player that Mangas will never forget. ‘I would say he is one of the best players I have ever played against. He is lightning quick and can score from all three levels. His efficiency stands out as well. During that game, as Harding was getting buckets on his end of the floor, I knew I had to go have a big scoring night as well. As I said before, I feel like my game only gets better as I go up against better players and teams. It is crucial to be fearless, aggressive, and to always be on the attack’, stressed Kyle Mangas. He had absolutely no adjustment period as a rookie as he came in and conquered averaging 20.7ppg, 5.4rpg, 1.8apg, 1.4spg, FGP: 56.6%, 3PT: 33.1%, FT: 81.2%. His philosophy is ‘Slow is smooth, smooth is fast. Be quick but don’t rush. ‘That has been my motto for a long time. I think it’s really important to be patient and on balance in the game of basketball. I feel like my IQ helped me as I played against older and more experienced players. Sometimes, teams will completely take away parts of your game so it is necessary to be able to adapt on the fly and find different ways to impact the game. I can play off the dribble and attack the basket but also really enjoy moving without the ball in the flow of the offense. The defenses in Europe are tough to score on, so I think that my patient-minded style of play is helpful because I am able to read how they are guarding me and then adjust accordingly’, said Kyle Mangas. Even if he needed no real transition, he does remember his wake up call to being a rookie overseas. ‘I have been in Northern Indiana my whole life, so I am used to having many family and friends at all of my games to support me. During the first few games, it felt very weird to not know anyone in the crowd, and it made me feel really far away from home. This was partly good for me however, as it encouraged me to go build relationships with my teammates and people around Prague’, remembered Kyle Mangas. He played in 41 games and held that overwhelming consistency from the NAIA scoring in double figures in 38 games including scoring 20 points or more 24 times and 30 points or more 6 times including 37 points against Pardubice. So far he has always had fortune with having the right coach to let him play his game. It wasn’t any different with head coach Josh King who allowed him to sparkle as a rookie. ‘It was beneficial for me to play under Josh King. He coaches the game with a lot of passion and energy. On the defensive end, he had us playing a style that required lots of ball pressure to make the offense uncomfortable. And on offense, he allows a lot of freedom for players to play their game by not being so set driven. Coach King taught me how the European game is played and gave me lots of advice on how to be a professional in this industry’, added Kyle Mangas. The question now will be can he make the jump to Germany to the easyCredit BBL and will Josh King take him with him to Ludwigsburg? Some years ago another NAIA great Cameron Hunt had to pay his dues in the Pro B in Germany, but then was able to make the jump to the German BBL. Why not Kyle Mangas? ‘I feel like I could make that jump. I realize that it is one of the best leagues across Europe, but I feel like I could make a positive impact on any team in that league. Watching teams like Ludwigsburg on streams throughout the year, I could see myself fitting into the unselfish style of basketball that is being played in the BBL. I know I must continue to get stronger and bigger as you have to be in great physical shape to compete at a high level in these leagues’, warned Kyle Mangas.
The ambitious guard who is looking to make the next step in his career and lists defensive stopper Jaren Jackson Jr and Romeo Langford the toughest 2 NBA players he has faced as a player is a 193cm guard That enjoyed watching Manu Ginobilli growing up and lists him then as his favorite player. Today he compares his game to a Bradley Beal or Bogdan Bogdanovic who are both wings scorers who can spot up and shoot or make plays off the dribble. His explosive scoring and efficiency has stood out his whole career, but he is very versatile and has so many other qualities that will help a team win. ‘I think my length really helps me for rebounding and defense. I am 6’4 with a 6’10 wingspan, so I can use my long arms to bother offensive players and get my hands on the basketball. I really try to crash the glass on the offensive end. Also, though I felt like I did not show it to best of my ability this year, I know I can pass the ball and get my teammates involved. I averaged 5 assists as a senior in college’, commented Kyle Mangas. But it is his passing that still seems to be a bit off the radar. He has tricky head fakes, pass fakes, can hit bank shots in the lane from straightaway and knows how to work the angles well. He simply has a magnificent incredible basketball IQ. This all sounds like Larry Bird. ‘Bank shots are my favorite shot. Honestly, it does not matter to me what angle you are at on the court, I think using the bank shot is always reliable. Larry Bird did have incredible vision on the court. I am probably not as flashy as him, but I know I can make some tough passes’, said Kyle Mangas. Even if his versatility is already well developed now, he knows that he can’t ever be satisfied and will continue to grind in the lab this summer so he will be best prepared for the next step. ‘Strength is the biggest area for me to improve right now. It is essential for me to gain more muscle and become quicker as I prepare to play against older players. Also, playing off of the ball screen and being sharper in my reads is another area I am working on. Lastly, my 3 point shot is something I am always striving to get better at. This is a big summer for me to improve my game after seeing how the European game is played’, warned Kyle Mangas. Not only have his coaches in his career been instrumental in his development but also dad Tim who he still goes to today for advice. ‘He taught me so much about the game of basketball. He was hard on me at times growing up as a young player, but he knew I was serious about getting better. Some of my favorite basketball memories are going to the gym with him as a kid and a high schooler and getting in workouts together. Though he was tough on me, he was still very encouraging and let me know that I was so much more than just a basketball player. Now, he still watches every one of my games and mainly just is there as my dad instead of being my coach as well. From time to time though he will still hold me accountable and push me if I get too comfortable’, stressed Kyle Mangas. It will be interesting to see how his second professional season will fair. I wonder how often he gets asked about Larry Bird overseas? I’m sure the more fancy passes that are unleashed by him, the more old school basketball heads will ask has anyone ever compared you to Larry Bird?