Manuel's teammates know he's familiar with adversity, so they have learned to look for him down the stretch. His old-fashioned basket-and-a-foul three-point play beat Oral Roberts in overtime. Two crunch-time steals, then dunks, socked away Northwestern Oklahoma State. And in the rematch at ORU, after enduring rather un-Christian chants of "A-C-T, A-C-T" from the students, he dropped in a couple of free throws to help beat the Titans again. "That stuff's been going on ever since I was at juco," Manuel says. "They chanted 'S-A-T' at Motlow State, and I had 46 against them. It gives me a boost. Makes me hyper rather than gets me down."
It's a family of sorts that has taken in this refugee. Basketball's great folklorist, former Oklahoma City coach Abe Lemons, 67, still haunts Frederickson Field-house on campus, and he makes Manuel laugh. The recent death of Terrell's aunt made Manuel cry. "People here are supportive of Eric," says Jerald Walker, the school's president, "because he's a decent human being who studies hard."
"Everybody else got out pretty clean," Manuel says. "I guess I was the scapegoat of the whole situation. Sometimes I think about it. But all I can do is go forward."
Manuel may keep dark secrets. Other people may whisper a prayer each night that he'll continue to keep them. He won't say one way or another. He has, however, noticed that the Oklahoma City cheerleaders often yell, "Go Big Blue!" just as their counterparts at Kentucky do. His reaction may surprise. "It's great to hear that one again," he says. "It puts a pretty ring in my head."
Considering all Manuel has been through, and how little charity has been accorded him, that is an awfully charitable thing to say.