Phillipsburg’s Mann, now key contributor for Army basketball, excited for homecoming
Chris Mann remembers with a smile the exact moment when the Army West Point basketball program came into his life. “I was at a family Christmas party, and I got a call from (then assistant) coach Zak Boisvert,” Mann said, “so there I am talking basketball with him during the party.” Up to that point during Mann’s junior season at Phillipsburg High School, he knew next to nothing about West Point or military life in general. Fast forward five years. On Sunday afternoon, Mann, a 6-foot-6, 205-pound junior forward, is expected to be in the starting lineup for Army when the Black Knights meet Lafayette at Kirby Sports Center in a Patriot League game. Tipoff is 2 p.m. “It’s going to be really cool; Lafayette is only 5-10 minutes away from my home,” said Mann, a Stewartsville resident. “My family and a lot of my friends and (Phillipsburg) teammates will be there, and I’ll get to see them after the game.” That phone call from Boisvert set in motion a future Mann never envisioned. “I didn’t see myself going to a service academy, but I was still pursuing the opportunity to play Division I basketball,” said Mann, who averaged 18 points as a junior, 19.5 points as a senior and finished his career as Phillipsburg’s third-leading scorer with 1,362 points. “When I came up here (West Point) for an elite camp, it was eye-opening. I got to see what goes on here and what they offered. I knew it would be hard, but the amount of opportunities I’d have was incredible.” After graduating from Phillipsburg in 2018, Mann arrived on the West Point grounds and like many of his Army teammates was required to spend a year in USMAPS (United States Military Academy Preparatory School) adjusting to the institution’s academic and military life. The “adjustment” wasn’t gradual; Mann quickly realized he no longer was in serene Stewartsville. “The first day at prep school we’re immediately doing basic training,” Mann said. “One minute I’m giving my parents (Chris and Tracy Mann) hugs goodbye, and the next minute I’m getting screamed at and doing pushups. Later that day at the parade grounds all the parents are watching, and you know you won’t be seeing them for a while. But it’s that way for everyone here.” Mann played in 28 games and averaged 9.6 minutes as a plebe in 2019-20.
Last season was especially trying for Mann, who appeared in only six games. “Last year was a weird season with COVID, and I had to leave school early,” Mann said. In late November 2020, Mann’s former Phillipsburg teammate and Stewartsville neighbor, Jermaine Knight, was killed in a single vehicle crash in Harmony Township. “He was my best friend. When that happened, I missed 6-7 days,” Mann said. “I missed almost another month (after contracting COVID). It was a hard time for me.” Army enters Sunday’s game with a 10-7 overall record and a 4-1 mark in the Patriot League. Mann came off the bench in the Black Knights’ first nine games before being inserted into the starting lineup Dec. 10 in a 66-49 victory over New Jersey Institute of Technology. He contributed 11 points and nine rebounds and has been part of the starting five in six of the last seven outings. “We changed our offense, and it required a little bigger lineup,” Mann said. “It’s cool to be starting; I haven’t experienced that since high school.” Prior to Mann moving into the lineup, the Black Knights were starting four guards – none taller than 6-3 – along with 6-9 sophomore forward Charlie Peterson. Guards Jalen Rucker and Josh Caldwell lead Army in scoring at 15.3 and 13.1 points per game, respectively. “We like to set a lot of ball screens, and they want me to be a pick-and-pop threat,” Mann said. Mann is averaging 6 points and 3.2 rebounds per game and has upped his scoring to 7.6 points in his five league contests. “We take pride here in defense and rebounding,” Mann said. “‘At Phillipsburg, there definitely wasn’t as much focus on that for me, which kind of put me at a disadvantage when I came to West Point. It’s a lot harder guarding Division I players.” Mann’s career at Phillipsburg included being named the MVP of the Jack Bennett Easton Rotary Holiday Classic as a sophomore and junior. His senior season featured the Stateliners’ first win over archrival Easton in more than a decade and reaching the NJSIAA North Group 4 sectional semifinals. Mann experienced four years of an intense rivalry with Easton before heading up the Hudson River, and it helped prepare him for THE rivalry – Army vs. Navy. “The feeling around the rivalry is somewhat similar, but the feeling you get when you play Navy is another level up,” Mann said. “There are a lot more fans at the games and people involved. The Navy players know what we go through. They know how hard it is at the academy because they are going through the same thing.” But there’s no other place Mann would want to be. He’s playing Division I basketball, receiving an outstanding education and preparing to serve his country after graduation. “I have no regrets,” Mann said. Our journalism needs your support. Please subscribe today to lehighvalleylive.com. Corky Blake can be reached at email@example.com.