katie sowers

JALIYAH MANUEL

The young girl from New Orleans has more than 122,000 followers on Instagram, and that’s for good reason: Her skills on the court. She may be small and cute, but she’ll break your ankles. Meet 8-year-old basketball phenom, Jaliyah Manuel.


Jaliyah is dribbling her way into people's hearts. The young phenom could be the next Pistol Pete Maravich. She begs her dad to help her practice every day."It makes me better, and when I grow up I feel like I'm going to be like my favorite players," said Manuel, who added that her favs include LeBron James, Michael Jordan and Steph Curry.Of course, Jordan's reign was way before she was born, but Jaliyah knows of him because of his big movie role in "Space Jam."She makes straight-A's because she is smart and because, in her household, sports are a privilege."If I don't make good grades, I don't practice," she said. "If I do make good grades, then I do practice."Most of the drills Jaliyah dreams up herself. "Sometimes, I just think in my brain, and then this is what I say to my dad, 'Dad, why don't we do this?' and I show him what I do and he adds the things to it.""I'm having professional trainers tell me they're using her drills," said her dad, Jovan Manuel.The little lefty doesn't even need to look at the ball and can dribble while wearing blinders."It kind of looks weird inside. I can't see nothing. I just feel for the basketballs. I learned how to do that when I was 5-years-old," she said. "I just learned because I can feel the ball.One basketball is her prized possession. She sleeps with it every night. If it’s not in the room, she gets up and sleepwalks to the living room and grabs a ball and goes and back to bed."When I sleep, when I watch movies and when I brush my teeth, I eat dinner with it. I feed it," she said, giving her prized ball, "some smoothies and some other things like healthy food."


Jaliyah is a celebrity at Belle Chasse Elementary, where she, of course, just took home first place in the talent show. She is already getting calls from IMG, the top prep school in the nation, and UConn, the powerhouse of women's college basketball, already has her on their radar. Jaliyah has been on SportsCenter, the Steve Harvey Show, and has met LeBron James. People of all ages even ask for her autograph."Really good, because I get to sign it. I even know how to sign my name in cursive so I can sign it, like a basketball player," she said. She maybe just a kid, but she's also a role model."Nothing is going to be given to you, you gotta go get it," she said, and she understands that at 8-years-old.The best part of being well known? "Cause I get my own day," she said.The Plaquemines Parish Council proclaimed April 14 Jaliyah Manuel day. But at the end of the day, all the 8-year-old wants to do is practice.There aren’t too many 8-year-olds who take on hill sprints to get better, or who can manage a 30-inch box jump. As for this girl, who sleeps with a basketball in her hands, the future seems bright in more ways than one.