New Year, New Justin Manns

Rachel Jones

New Year’s resolutions are meant to change people for the better.

Kent State basketball player Justin Manns thought changing his hairstyle would make him feel better, but he had no idea it would turn him into a better person — and player.

“I just felt like I needed a change coming into the new year,” Manns said. “I went by new year, new haircut, new me.”

The junior wanted to cut his hair in the past but chickened out at the thought of his head being too cold. He kept saying he would do it in the summer instead, which turned into next summer, which turned into the summer after that…

But after almost five years since his last haircut, he decided to stop delaying his plans and cut off his shoulder-length dreadlocks.

While hanging out at teammate Michael Porrini’s house with a few other players on New Year’s Eve, Manns confessed to his friends the plans for his head.

“I said, ‘When we go into the new year, I’m going to cut my hair,’” Manns explained. “They thought it was a joke at first, but I was like, ‘I’m serious.’”

Testing his word, his teammates searched the house for scissors and clippers. To prove his seriousness, they made Manns cut the first dread himself.

Once the first one hit the floor, his teammates continued to cut and shave Manns’ head until there was nothing left.

“Personally, I think he was trying to look more like me,” said clean-shaven Kent State coach Geno Ford.

Manns looks like a completely different person post-haircut, but Ford said Manns’ personality is just as diverse when he is on the court compared to off it.

When he’s playing, the coaches beg Manns to talk more and demand more from himself and his teammates.

But once he leaves the court, Manns likes to be the center of attention, constantly chatting up his teammates and being “the kind of guy that guys will flock toward and enjoy being around,” Ford said.

While the coaches have tried all season to get on-court Manns to be more like off-court Manns, Ford said something clicked after that monumental haircut.

“He’s really played harder, been more vocal and had more production since he cut his hair,” Ford said. “Had I known, I would have held him down and shaved him myself a long time ago.”

But is it really the shaved head that’s made the 6-foot-11-inch center a better basketball player?

“I really do think it is,” Manns said. “I think ever since I cut my hair, there’s been nothing but positive things happening. My numbers, my effort at practice, being vocal and my enthusiasm (have all increased). I think my coaches can attest that I’m a different player.”

The coaches definitely noticed a different player walk into the 7 a.m. film session on New Year’s Day. Ford said Manns didn’t make any jokes or negative comments about his new hairdo.

“He just said, ‘Hey, it’s a new year, I’m going to have a new attitude. I’m going to play better, and I’m going to play harder.’ We’re (21) days into it, but I have to be honest, he’s really done a 180. It’s not just for show – he is a new person, and it’s helped out our basketball team and made him a better person,” Ford said.

Manns said he feels different on the court because he’s no longer selfish. Even if plays or shots don’t go his way, he is maintaining a positive attitude and vocalizing encouragement to his teammates.

The players and coaches are proud of his attitude adjustment, but everyone else is still adjusting to his shaved head.

“My mom didn’t believe it,” Manns said. “She said I look all of 12 years old. Everyone keeps saying I look young, I look 16, I have a baby face – all that. A lot of people couldn’t believe it.”

A lot of people also don’t believe Manns played only four years of organized basketball before joining the Flashes.

“Justin Manns has a lot of potential – that’s just something that jumps out about him at you,” Ford said. “He’s played with much more passion and a much higher, consistent energy level than he was toward the beginning of the year.”

Manns said his goal is to be named the MAC Defensive Player of the Year, but most fans know him as the player who executes crazy, effortless dunks.

“I feel that my team feeds off the alley-oops, dunks and blocks,” Manns said. “You see that boost in the team and in the crowd when there’s a dunk or alley-oop, and the jungle goes crazy.”

Regardless of his hairstyle, Manns will continue to excel offensively and defensively on the court.

And while his head is much colder when he’s walking to and from class, the center does not regret the haircut that gave him a better attitude and basketball stats throughout the conference schedule.

“I feel better that I cut my hair,” Manns said. “I feel like I was looking like a stereotype (before) because I’m tall with a lot of tattoos and dreads. Now, I look like a man. I’m a new person.”

Contact Rachel Jones at [email protected].