Manny Suarez Excited to Be Back in the Fold at Fordham

Charles CostelloContributor IJuly 9, 2014

A referee holds a ball during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game between Saint Louis and Fordham Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

Bad news struck the Fordham Rams right before the start of the 2013-14 regular season.

Manny Suarez, a 6'10" freshman forward, was ruled academically ineligible by the NCAA. As a result, he would have to sit out the entire season.

It was a big loss for the Rams and a tough reality for Suarez, who averaged 18.4 points, 13.2 rebounds and 6.0 blocks per game during his senior year at Marist High School in Bayonne, New Jersey.

He put up virtually the same numbers as a junior (16 points, 13 rebounds and 5 blocks per game) in 14 games at Marist after transferring from Cliffside Park High School.

Then, before his college career could get going, he was ineligible.

Now, Suarez is back, working out with the team and getting ready for what will finally be his rookie season.

"It feels amazing," he said about returning to the fold. "I'm thankful to everybody for getting me in here and getting me ready."

As big of a hit as Suarez's loss may have been for Fordham, it was devastating for him. Instead of bemoaning the past, however, Suarez prefers to focus on the opportunities that lie ahead.

"That killed me," he said about being ruled ineligible, "but I'm grateful because I'm here."

Suarez was forced to sit and watch as Fordham struggled through its Atlantic 10 schedule in 2014. The Rams finished with a 2-14 record against conference opponents during the regular season.

There was nothing he could do. No way he could help. For Suarez, it was agonizing.

"That was just painful seeing my teammates going to battle—just to need that extra edge, that extra push—and I wasn't there to help them," he said. "It hurt me a lot.

"But we have this year. I'm just hoping to make a name for myself and start getting things rolling."

The summer workouts have been his first opportunity to do just that. Suarez is part of a group of new-look Rams who hope to turn around a program that has suffered through seven straight losing seasons.

"We're a young squad," he said. "I believe we have the talent."

I'll let you in on a little secret: Suarez is thinking big.

In fact, when asked about his expectations for this team, he brought up the Fordham women's basketball team, which won the Atlantic 10 championship last season, securing a berth in the NCAA tournament.

"What really excites me is that we're hungry," he said. "We're hungry to get an Atlantic 10 championship."

"I think it's our turn," he added. "When it comes to the NCAA tournament, I just wish us the best, and we'll see how far we go."

Suarez, like many of his teammates, is a great unknown. Because most people have never seen him play, there's excitement, as well as a bit of mystery, about his game.

To listen to Suarez, it's all about the team. He talks about being able to "handle the ball" and about having "a quicker step than most big men," but then he'll say his "talent is to be able to find the open man."

"I believe my role is to help my teammates get open—screening, cutting, rolling, distributing the ball," he said. "It's not always about scoring to me. If I attack and my teammate is wide open, it's about passing, just being selfless."

Fordham head coach Tom Pecora has been able to get a look at Suarez during the workouts. He says there are things he needs to work on, but the potential is there.

"Manny's got to play with greater intensity as a freshman, and he's got to continue to work hard on his body because he's thin," Pecora said.

Pecora recognizes Suarez's ability to do some things that players his size typically are not able to do.

"Extending defenses and knocking down long jumpers," Pecora said. "That's really his specialty right now."


All quotations in this article were obtained firsthand.

Charles Costello covers the Fordham Rams for Bleacher Report. Twitter: @CFCostello