Enmanuel’s first college points go global

ATTENTION GRABBER:  Northwestern’s Hansel Enmanuel drew widespread attention Saturday when the Demons’ freshman, who has no left arm, scored his first collegiate points, including a free throw and a dunk after a miss at the line. (Photo by KEVIN SHANNAHAN, Journal Services)

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

It had nothing to do with the outcome of a dominant win Saturday that gave Northwestern State’s upstart basketball team its best start in 70 seasons. That was already settled by the time Hansel Enmanuel changed the narrative, and broadened it exponentially.

When it happened, the Demons were putting the finishing touches on their seventh straight victory, a steady 91-73 drubbing of visiting ULM that raised NSU’s record to 8-2 under first-year coach Corey Gipson.

The tone of the game presented the first extended opportunity to contribute for Enmanuel, the remarkable true freshman who has no left arm, the result of an accident when he was six years old in his native Dominican Republic. Enmanuel moved to Florida a couple of years ago and emerged as a small school prep standout who became an internet sensation in summer basketball competition with video clips showcasing his athleticism and flair for the spectacular, especially considering his handicap.

Enmanuel made a brief appearance Saturday, his fifth of the season, late in the first half, a typical stint early in his first year of college ball. In the first four outings he spent only 13 total minutes on the court, missing two shots, three free throws, most notably, unable to record his first collegiate points.

That changed with 2:28 left to play Saturday, delighting the Prather Coliseum crowd of 1,627, including Enmanuel’s father. After he missed a couple of opportunities, Enmanuel took a pass on the right side in front of the Demon bench, dribbled as he drove from the wing, split two defenders and hit a layup off glass to draw a rousing cheer and standing ovation while raising NSU’s lead to 86-66.

Then just over a minute later, he rocked the house. After he missed a free throw, the ball bounded back to him just behind the line. He dribbled through the lane past two defenders, then soared to deliver a fierce tomahawk dunk that had teammates leaping for joy, sending fans into a frenzy.

His final stat line: 8 minutes played, 2-for-3 shooting, 1-of-5 at the free throw line with two rebounds, and five points. Nothing of note, except … at least in modern-day Division I college basketball history, nobody had seen anything like that done by a one-armed player, which is thought to be unprecedented over decades of competition.

“I had to keep going after the layup – that was my first bucket,” Enmanuel told NSU sports information director Jason Pugh. “I know my family was proud. I had to keep working.”

The cascade of media coverage began almost immediately as Pugh and NSU marketing director Lauren Krupica posted clips of the plays on the @NSUDemonsMBB Twitter account and the NSUDemonsMBB Instagram account.

It quickly spread across ESPN social media platforms and finished Saturday night at No. 6 on SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays of the Day. Clips sailed across mainstream sports media outlets and began spilling outside to news organizations, including the three major American television networks,  Apple News and The Drudge Report. There was international coverage, including the United Kingdom’s Daily Mail and other news services, and a separate story distributed globally by the Associated Press. Coverage was extensive in his home country and around the Caribbean.

Monday, footage was shown in a minute-long hit on ABC-TV’s Good Morning America and on the CBS Mornings news show. CBS Sports has reached out to Pugh about doing a segment on Enmanuel and Greg Hilburn of Gannett Louisiana will be at NSU today for a story likely to be picked up by USA Today and Gannett newspapers around the country.

“I didn’t know the kind of reach that Hansel had,” said Patrick Netherton, the NSU announcer who handled the ESPN Plus call. “You see him in the Gatorade commercial that ran during the NBA Finals, then on the ESPYs, and I’d heard (national talk show host and former NBA star) Jalan Rose talking about doing their show from Natchitoches, but when he finally did something as a college player, it basically went not only across the country, but around the world.

Enmanuel’s is a story of perseverance, a kid overcoming a handicap to live out his dream. It was a landmark event, scoring his first college points, then making such a spectacular play, creating a huge media splash Saturday night into Sunday.

“I was flabbergasted by the reach this has,” Netherton said. “Every mainstream sports media entity has a story about it, and it has spread outside the sports world. You look on the Facebook post ESPN did, and it’s got 3,000 shares and 2,000 comments (as of Sunday night). The fact that AP did a separate story about it speaks volumes. This won’t happen every time he scores, but it does tell us about the eyeballs all over that are following him, and it illustrates why he has some brand-name NIL deals.”

Enmanuel signed with Gatorade last summer. Recently, he became affiliated with T-Mobile and adidas sports gear. He is 10th on the NIL valuation Top 100 rankings compiled by On3.com in a group headed by Bronny James, son of NBA great LeBron James, and including Arch Manning (No. 3), 2021 Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young (4), and 2022 Heisman winner Caleb Williams (6). He is the only college basketball player in the Top 10, with an NIL valuation of $1.5 million and a reported 4.2 million social media followers.

The Demons play at Rice Saturday and visit Baylor and Texas A&M during the holidays before opening Southland Conference competition at home Dec. 31 against Texas A&M-Commerce.

Contact Doug at sbjdoug@gmail.com