Manuel Forrest was ranked as one of the five best high school players in America in 1981 before he signed with Louisville.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Former University of Louisville basketball player.
That's what all the headlines called Manuel Forrest Monday, when the news broke that he was arrested by Metro Police after an officer found marijuana and crack cocaine in his car during a traffic stop.
Just another guy who now finds himself trying to make the best out of some apparently bad choices.
Maybe you shook your head over the news. More likely, you wondered, "Who's Manuel Forrest?"
I shook my head, too. Then I decided it was a good time to try to answer the question, "Who is Manuel Forrest?"
There are so many answers. Manuel Forrest, now 50, was my introduction to basketball in Jefferson County more than three decades ago.
He was the most prolific high school basketball player in town – and the state of Kentucky. He made the Moore High School Mustangs The Team To Watch every Friday.
Not Ballard. Not Male. Drive to the Outer Loop to watch Moore.
"Manuel came right after Darrell Griffith, Bobby Turner, Rudy Macklin, Jeff Lamp, Lee Raker and all those great players (in the late Seventies) and he was just as feared as any one of them," said Bellarmine coach Scott Davenport.
"He was the true definition of a volume shooter and scorer. You never knew how many he was going to get."
Forrest was the guy Moore coach Tommy Finnegan treated like a son, driving downtown in the snow to get Forrest to take him to school; stopping to feed him on the way home from practice. Finnegan wanted Forrest to make it as badly as any player he ever coached.
Manuel Forrest was The Recruit that the University of Louisville had to sign in 1981. This was before the days of national recruiting gurus. But everybody knew Forrest. He carved his name onto The Courier-Journal Super Five, right behind Patrick Ewing, the Hall of Famer, as one of the five best players in the America. That was the same high school class as Michael Jordan.
Forrest was the guy that Denny Crum got and worked into the U of L lineup with the McCray brothers, Lancaster Gordon, Charles Jones and the other fabulous players from that generation.
"He was one of the finest players we recruited," said former U of L assistant coach Jerry Jones. "Manuel could really shoot. He could handle the ball. He could do everything."
Forrest had a nice, but unspectacular career, averaging 12.8 points as a senior in 1985. There was a Final Four in 1982 and another in 1983. But there was no national championship, just as there was not a state championship at Moore. Some considered those two more signs that Forrest was a guy life was going to rough up pretty good.
I met Forrest when he was a sophomore at Moore, playing on dynamic teams that also featured Ronnie Wilson, Niles Dockery and the unforgettable Swopes Thompson.
He was listed at 6 feet 7, but even 6-6 seemed generous. Forrest had hands that swallowed a basketball. His shoulders were narrow, but not as thin as his legs, which often looked frail. Although Forrest laughed easily, an unsettling sadness regularly stretched over his face.
Forrest always talked about his mother, whom he adored. I never heard him mention his father. Forrest didn't have much. That's why Finnegan protected and nurtured Forrest the way he did. His mother died early in Forrest's college career. Teammates once found him sitting by her grave, crying at 1:30 in the morning.
"He was crushed," Jones said. "His Mom was everything to him. I'm not sure Manuel ever recovered from that."
Forrest's knees bothered him in high school. He was always wrapping them in ice. They told him he grew too fast. The problem became worse throughout the grind of college. Surgery took away some of his explosiveness. Orthopedic treatment was not as advanced as it is today. He was never a great athlete. Just a great shooter. The game became more difficult.
Unlike Ewing, Greg Dreiling or Anthony Jones, three other members of the C-J's 1981 Super Five, Forrest never made the NBA.
But he didn't stop playing basketball. Forrest earned a solid living in Argentina, playing there for most of a decade. Some of his former U of L teammates were convinced he'd stay in South America the rest of his life.
Then, Forrest later told me, somebody tapped into his bank and savings accounts. The government? Somebody at the bank? Forrest said he wasn't sure. Suddenly Forrest didn't have anything.
He decided to come home to Louisville.
I saw him several years ago at the YMCA on West Chestnut Street. He was supervising an open gym for elementary school kids. Same Manuel Forrest. Same easy smile. Same stiff walk. Same sad eyes.
Manuel Forrest said he was happy to be home. Jones said he saw Forrest during the summer. Forrest told him he was looking forward to coaching at Rock Creek Community Academy in Sellersburg, Ind.
Now he's on the police report with charges of possessing marijuana and crack cocaine. The headlines have reduced Manuel Forrest to a former University of Louisville basketball player. To me, he's always been much more than that.