Central New York has housed legends on the hardwood across time. These staples in Syracuse Orange basketball lore did not just make an impact on the floor in Syracuse, but elsewhere as a professional. The days of Dave Bing, Derrick Coleman and Carmelo Anthony are well past us, but this era of Syracuse basketball ushers in a unique crop of talent.
As Syracuse men’s basketball keeps its 2018-19 season entertaining, two players stand out as potential NBA prospects. Tyus Battle (18.2 points per game) had legitimacy as a first-round draft pick last year, and his stock remains similar into the 2019 NBA Draft discussion. As award-winning Syracuse basketball beat writer (and my former professor) Mike Waters noted in a May column: “Tyus Battle didn’t want to be an NBA draft pick. He wants to be an NBA player,” which helped influence his decision to return to Syracuse for the 2018-19 season.
Oshae Brissett joins Battle in certain 2019 NBA mock drafts as a late-first round or early second round pick. The sophomore averages 13.8 points on 38.3% shooting and gathers a team-high 7.8 rebounds per game.
Meanwhile, the women’s team follows up an NCAA tournament appearance while maintaining an incredible level of consistency. The Orange women are ranked No. 12 in the country while playing in the toughest conference in women’s college basketball (the ACC). While Battle and Brissett are regarded as NBA prospects, they aren’t necessarily the “best”... or the leaders of what could potentially be considered the best team on campus right now.
Earlier this week, Brent Axe unveiled a feature on this player, and the question beckoned with it: Who’s the best basketball player on campus, men’s or women’s? The case is definitely there for it. I’ll put myself on the line to say it is fact. She is the best.
That player is women’s basketball point guard Tiana Mangakahia.
.@CuseWBB PG @Tianamanga can make the case to be the best basketball player at @Cuse on either roster. Here is my profile of @CoachQatSU Australian import fresh off a Triple Double performance of 34 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. https://t.co/WtW4800H9X— Brent Axe (@BrentAxeMedia) January 16, 2019
Mangakahia has headlined a lineup marked by consistency. Sunday’s game at Georgia Tech will mark the 49th consecutive game where head coach Quentin Hillsman rolls out the same starting five: Amaya Finklea-Guity, Digna Strautmane, and Miranda Drummond in his frountcourt, and Gabrielle Cooper and Mangakahia in his backcourt.
Mangakahia arrived as a transfer from Hutchinson Community College prior to the start of last season. She had some hype surrounding her, as Dan Olson of espnW HoopGurlz rated her as the top-ranked junior college point guard. Since donning orange and white, Mangakahia has been spectacular and it is a borderline crime that hardly anyone outside of the 3-1-5 has taken notice. As the Orange women’s lineup has been a benchmark of consistency, so has Mangakahia — the leader of that lineup.
She began her SU career on the right note — earning 2017 Paradise Jam MVP after averaging 13.7 points and 13.7 assists in three games versus Wisconsin, Vanderbilt, and George Washington in November. She dished a career-high 17 assists versus Vanderbilt — a single-game record in program history.
She kept rolling as the calendar flipped to 2018. In January versus Georgia Tech, Mangakahia began to etch herself into SU record books. She scored 44 points in the team’s 88-77 win, the second-most points scored at a game inside the Carrier Dome (Alexis Peterson - 45 points in January 2017.) In that same game, Mangakahia set a new program record for free throws made in a single game, making 20-of-21 from the charity stripe. The previous record was 15 free throws made.
Mangakahia did not stop there. Nearly a month later, she was nominated as a finalist for the Nancy Lieberman Award, given to the top point guard in women’s college basketball. She chased that nomination by breaking Alexis Peterson’s single-season assists record on February 1 versus Virginia Tech. On February 25 versus Boston College, Mangakahia set herself atop the ACC record books with assist no. 283, eclipsing Notre Dame guard Lindsay Allen’s record in 2017.
She finished the 2017-18 season with 304 assists and 9.8 per game, both tops in the NCAA. In addition, she posted a team-high 17.5 points per game and chipped in 14 double doubles.
All of this is without mentioning the tear that Mangakahia is on to begin the 2018-19 season.
After being named to both the Blue Ribbon Panel and the Coaches’ preseason All-ACC first team and the 2019 Nancy Lieberman Award Watch List, Mangakahia continued from where she left off from the season prior.
She won ACC Player of the Week honors three times last season. She has done so twice already this season — a back-to-back nomination to kick off the month of January. She earned the latter recognition following the first points-rebounds-assists triple-double in program history last Sunday versus North Carolina. She finished with a season-high 34 points, a career-high 10 rebounds, and 10 assists in the Orange’s 90-77 win over the Tar Heels.
“I’m glad we got (Mangakahia) because I can tell you right now she’s a tough guard,” head coach Quentin Hillsman said after the UNC game. “She can make shots, she plays off the bounce, she finds cutters, she finds open players and she’s just an amazing point guard.”
Entering Sunday, Mangakahia averages 16.0 points and 7.9 assists per game this season.
All of the above is listed and noted to say this: It would be crazy to say she is not deserving of being in the conversation of being the best basketball player on campus. Certainly, it would be egregious to not consider Mangakahia among the greatest women’s basketball players in Syracuse history. It would be asinine to not say she is the best point guard Syracuse women’s basketball has ever seen. Ultimately, it is not far fetched to think she could go to and succeed in the WNBA.
Simply, “Tiana,” deserves first-name treatment. While Tyus Battle and Oshae Brissett may earn certain glitz and glamour of being NBA prospects, they have not yet imprinted themselves upon a program like Mangakahia has (though Battle’s certainly made a case for himself). With her flashy no-look passes, knack for finding open teammates, and her trademark scoop layup, Mangakahia is the type of player that is worth the price of admission
Ask conference rival No. 4 Louisville women’s basketball head coach Jeff Walz.
“(Mangakahia) is fun to watch,” Walz commented after Louisville’s 84-77 win at Syracuse last season. “If you’re a basketball fan in this city... If you don’t come out here to watch her, shame on you. I have no idea where there’s not 5,000 people, 6,000 people in this place every day watching that kid play. She is spectacular.”
She has the stats. She has the accolades. She has the respect from her peers. She has the skills. She is the type of player that coaches make gameplans for. She brings a unique level of international experience to an already potent roster that is steadily getting better.
There is nothing more to say other than to go see her play for yourself. I was convinced last season while covering the SU women’s team and seeing her break records and create a highlight tape. If, for whatever reason, you still need convincing, there are seven chances left to see her suit up in the Carrier Dome this season. Not that she is going to bolt from Syracuse to begin her career in the WNBA after this season, but, as Syracuse.com’s Lindsay Kramer notes, “The question isn’t whether Mangakahia, a junior, will ever navigate WNBA hardwood. It’s when she’ll make the leap from the Orange to the pros.”
You’ll be sorry to not go see her — and the rest of the No. 12 Orange women’s team, play this season.
Nothing against Battle or Brissett. Absolutely, nothing, except the evidence. The evidence points against them. Tiana is the best on The Hill.
Follow Corey Crisan on Twitter @cdcrisan for coverage of SU athletics.