Terance Mann’s belief in himself pays off, thanks to the belief Clippers had in him
Yes, he was a pivotal player in the biggest playoff win in Clippers history. But his unconventional path to the NBA tells the whole story.
An emotional Terance Mann sat in a satisfied daze for about two hours appreciating how he made his NBA dream a reality with his beloved LA Clippers after receiving an unexpected raise.
From his senior year at Florida State to the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament to being a second-round draft pick to playing in the G League to scoring 39 points in the biggest playoff triumph in Clippers history, Mann had gone on quite the journey. So, when the Clippers rewarded that successful road with a two-year contract extension worth $22 million during training camp in San Diego in October, the guard-forward was reflective and thankful.
“It’s an emotional thing and crazy to me because of the whole process I had to go through,” Mann told The Undefeated. “All of that was playing back in my head. You started at Portsmouth. You did all this stuff. You almost didn’t go to the NBA pre-draft camp. The 48th pick. The G League. Things start hitting you like, ‘Dang, you really did something for yourself.’
“It was just an emotional thing. No tears or nothing. Just really sitting back and reflecting like, ‘How the hell did I actually do this?’ ”
Mann’s unconventional and tough path to the NBA became possible in large part because the Clippers saw something in him many others missed.
Mann didn’t have All-American statistics — he averaged 11.4 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists in 31.7 minutes per game as a senior at Florida State during the 2018-19 season. The Lowell, Massachusetts, native did shoot 50.5% from the field, 39% from 3-point range and 79% from the free throw line.
Mann was athletic, a versatile defender, strong and had a high basketball IQ that he inherited from his mother, Daynia, who is an assistant coach with the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream. The knock on Mann heading into the NBA draft by pro scouts and analytics was his shooting ability and his age (he was 22 years old then).
Mann said Florida State men’s basketball assistant coach Charlton “C.Y.” Young told him during his senior year that the Clippers were very fond of him. But in terms of the NBA at large, Mann not being viewed as a surefire draft pick in 2019 confused Seminoles head coach Leonard Hamilton.
“Terance is an ultimate winner,” Hamilton said. “He is a high IQ basketball player who I’ve always categorized as a stat stuffer. When you go back and look, he touches every stat that is important to win basketball games. Sometimes in college people are enamored with lofty statistics. But he is one of the all-time winners in the history of the program.
“He did all the winning things that helped you win games. That might not draw the attention of the media, but the analytics folks realize the impact they have on the game. He never really worried about stats. He always tried to do the little things that gave you a chance to win. The stops, tip-ins, deflections, the steals, the hockey pass to the person who made the pass for the basket.”
Typically, draft prospects have a long list of NBA agents to choose from. Such was not the case for Mann. So after doing his own research, he reached out to longtime NBA agent Bill Duffy.
“He called me and said, ‘Hey, Mr. Duffy, this is Terance Mann. I was wondering if you would be interested in representing me.’ This is, like, three-quarters of the way through his senior season. I saw him play and was like, ‘Yeah, I would like working with you.’ If someone on his level comes after me, I’m going to take them on and it feels great,” Duffy said.
Duffy next watched film on Mann, talked to NBA general managers and scouts about him and talked to his AAU coach Leo Papile, now a consultant for the Clippers, to educate himself further. While Duffy learned that Mann was viewed as a possible two-way prospect, he saw him more as a potential NBA point guard due to his playmaking skills and ballhandling ability. Duffy told Mann that he had an unconventional plan with hopes to get him seen by as many NBA scouts as possible. Mann was all-in.
Duffy told Mann that his first step was to play in the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament, a longtime NBA pre-draft camp for college seniors who are overlooked but have league potential. Former NBA stars who are alumni of the Virginia tournament include Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, John Stockton, Tim Hardaway, Ben Wallace, Avery Johnson, Jeremy Lin, Rick Barry, Dave Cowens and Earl “The Pearl” Monroe.
“Bill was like, ‘You have to go to Portsmouth, do your thing and be you.’ He always told me, ‘Be you,’ because he trusted that I belonged,” Mann said. “I just followed that plan and was myself the entire time.”
Mann was among 64 seniors split on eight teams during a four-day, 12-game tournament played in front of NBA and G League scouts. While Mann played well, it was not enough to make the 12-member PIT All-Tournament team. Mann recalled Clippers general manager Lawrence Frank attending and telling him that he would be in consideration for a second-round pick.
Mann’s play in Portsmouth landed him a coveted spot in the G League Elite Camp in Chicago, which included 40 draft hopefuls and 40 prospects and ran from May 12-14, 2019. The reward for 10 from the draft-eligible group was an invite to the 2019 NBA draft combine on May 14-19 in Chicago.
Mann was not selected to take part in the NBA draft combine and was very disappointed and confused after believing he performed well. He left for the airport to go home to Atlanta and had trouble getting his boarding pass because his phone battery was at 1%. Suddenly, a call from an unfamiliar number came to his dying phone.
“My phone was at 1% and I thought there was no way I should answer this because my phone was about to die,” Mann said. “If it dies, I won’t be able to contact people. But I just answered anyway and it was some guy who said, ‘You just got picked up by the NBA draft combine and we need you to come back right now.’
“So I called my [secondary] agent Chris [Gilbert] and said, ‘My phone is about to die. What should I do?’ He said, ‘Head back.’ I went outside the airport and the driver was still there. It was a relieved feeling. Now I get a chance to play in front of NBA personnel. I felt I could make something work from there.”
Mann ranked among the top 10 participants in vertical leap, standing vertical leap, hand length and body fat, and he played well. After Chicago, Mann worked out for 13 teams before the NBA draft.
Mann continued to believe the Clippers were the most interested. Papile has known Mann since he was in junior high school and told the Clippers that he thought he could be an impactful player who should be selected in the second round.
“He is a guy who every night is going to give you whatever he got, whether it’s a minute or 48 minutes,” Papile said of Mann. “He competes. He cares about winning. Plays for the scoreboard and he will make sure he will do whatever the team needs to win. If he has to stand on his head to help his team win, he will do it.”
Mann was not invited to the green room for the top prospects for the 2019 NBA draft, but he did show up in the stands at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, late in the first round. Dressed in a suit, he was nervous, felt the arena was very cold and sat in the stands near other unheralded prospects. The Clippers selected Mann with the 48th overall of 60 total draft selections and he walked from the stands to the stage to shake NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum’s hand.
“I figured I would get drafted at some point,” Mann said. “But I knew because of my personality and how hard I work that if I didn’t get drafted or wherever I went I was going to make it work somehow, some way. That was my mentality. At the point I was drafted, I was happy. I was in the door. That is all that was needed.”
Mann turned down a two-way contract from the Clippers and then-head coach Doc Rivers in hopes of proving during the Las Vegas Summer League that he was worthy of a true contract. In July 2019, in the midst of Las Vegas Summer League, the Clippers made blockbuster moves, landing coveted free agent Kawhi Leonard and also agreeing in principle to acquire Paul George from the Oklahoma City Thunder in a trade for forward Danilo Gallinari, guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and five first-round selections. Mann initially assumed he was in that trade.
Clippers executive board member Jerry West, an NBA legend known for having a keen eye for talent, made it very well known that he was high on Mann from what he saw during summer league play. Mann’s bet on himself paid off as the Clippers signed him to a four-year contract worth $6.3 million.
“I just tried to play as hard as I could and prove myself,” Mann said.
Mann played sparingly in 41 games with the Clippers during his rookie season, but he showed strong work ethic by taking part in two-a-days during the NBA bubble to improve his game. What he deems the most meaningful part of his rookie season was the 20 contests he spent in the G League with the Agua Caliente Clippers. He averaged 15.5 points, 8.9 rebounds, 6.2 assists and 1.2 steals during the 2019-20 season playing primarily point guard. Mann’s G League play gave him confidence that he belonged in the NBA.
“I never complained about going to the G League,” Mann said. “I still talk to the coach, Brian Adams, who is an assistant now for Doc in Philly. He really helped me out. I was only playing point guard. I learned a lot about the NBA game that I didn’t know before. Spacing. What to do with reads. With my game, what I am good at, what to do, what not to do. They let you play out mistakes, which you can’t do on a team that is championship or bust.”
Mann averaged 7.0 points, 3.6 rebounds and 18.9 minutes per game last season, and saw himself as the 11th man on the Clippers at the time. He was motivated to prove he was better than that and leaned on defense. Mann was suddenly given the opportunity to prove himself after Leonard was lost for the postseason with a right knee injury during Game 4 of the 2021 Western Conference semifinals against the Utah Jazz.
“I knew it was my opportunity, but I wasn’t thinking like that. I was thinking that I needed to do whatever I had to do to win,” Mann said. “I wasn’t thinking it was my time to shine.”
Unbeknownst to Mann, it was his time to shine and make Clippers history.
The Clippers were down 25 points at home in a possible closeout game at Staples Center, trying to avoid a Game 7 in Salt Lake City. Mann wasn’t expected to change that daunting scenario as he averaged 7.6 points in 19 playoff games entering Game 6. But with the gambling Jazz leaving him open, he exploded for 25 of his career-high 39 points in the second half to lead the franchise to a comeback win and first trip to the conference finals.
Mann got a standing ovation from the Clippers fans, high-fived Clippers chairman Steve Ballmer, his teammates doused him with water in the locker room and he became an instant franchise legend. Mann said there was no way he would have dreamed of such a moment as a kid.
“I was in a zone where I felt lost,” Mann said. “I was, like, not even present. Just so locked in on the game plan. The game plan was for me to shoot it anytime I caught it. I hit like 7-of-10 from 3. It was like target practice. I was wide-open …
“It felt like we won a championship. It was the first time the Clippers went to the Western Conference finals. Doing that for the Clippers organization and Steve Ballmer, who really wanted to change things and has been through a lot with a lot of different players. For me to be one of the main guys pushing us through is crazy.”
Mann, averaging 10 points and 5 rebounds off the bench this season, is a chill, mild-mannered NBA player who prefers to let his play speak for him. But being in Los Angeles, with signature braids and a historic NBA moment, has made him not only a familiar face among NBA fans, but worldwide.
Even when Mann wears hoodie over his head he has not been able to hide from the uncomfortable fame that comes with success as a professional athlete.
“Everywhere I go in the U.S. people know me,” Mann said. “It’s, like, a big difference. In airports in New York, Florida, everywhere. Now I got a whole airport attire with my hood, mask and shades. It’s not that I don’t like attention, but it can be kind of annoying. If I’m on a red-eye flight, I don’t want to talk. There were plenty of times in the offseason on a plane where the person sitting next to me didn’t recognize me until halfway through and they just want to talk the rest of the flight.
“It was life changing, completely. The followers on Instagram, Twitter. The best part is the respect that I get from my family, friends and closest people.”
Duffy recalls the Clippers reaching out about rewarding Mann with the extension during summer league last August. Mann is making $1.7 million this season and is slated to make $1.9 million next season. The Clippers could have potentially offered Mann a four-year, $56 million deal if the Clippers declined the team option for next season. He could also have bet on himself to become a restricted free agent in 2023.
But instead, Mann decided to opt for the contract extension offered in large part because of the faith the Clippers had in him dating to his Florida State days. He will be in his prime at 28 years old when he is a free agent again with the ability to make a much bigger jackpot with continued progress.
“I didn’t think it could happen because I still had two years on my deal,” Mann said. “Who does that? That is just difficult to do. But they were down with it. Renegotiated for a couple months. It was cool. I signed it because this was the team that ultimately believed in me from the beginning.
“They believed in me before anything. Having the opportunity to re-sign an extension, why wouldn’t I do it?”