MISSOULA – Something about it just seemed to click.
As Kendal Manuel poured in a career-high for the Montana Grizzlies on Saturday night in a home loss to Portland State, his best friend, Missoula native and Oregon State star Tres Tinkle, completed another blistering performance for the Beavers a little over 12 hours to the southwest in Eugene, Oregon. Tinkle dropped 28 points to lead OSU past rival Oregon in the 351st Civil War to begin Pacific-12 Conference play with a win and improve to 9-4 overall.
Call it coincidence, sure. But in the grander scheme of things, these two were bound to synchronize eventually.
Why? Because it’s what they’ve been doing since the moment they met.
Just ask them, and they’ll tell you.
“I don’t know how many times with him being here or even back in the day before we got to OSU, there’s things that I’d try to tell him and he’d beat me to it,” Tinkle recalled. “I’d be like, ‘guess what happened’ or ‘guess who I just talked to’ and he knew right away. And vice versa. We’d just kind of read each other’s minds. It’s kind of funny.”
Added Manuel: “It’s been an adjustment just because we’ve been playing together the last three years and everything, but at the same time, it still feels like we’re together just because of how connected we are. We’re always keeping in touch, giving each other a good luck text, calls and everything that we need to support each other throughout this whole process.
“We’re both chasing the same dream and hopefully one day we can end up playing on the same team again.”
Manuel wished Tinkle luck before the Civil War. Then, on the bus ride home, Tinkle checked his ESPN app and saw Manuel’s bottom line.
“I saw what he had and like I said with the perfect timing all of the time, I saw he had 22 points and next thing I know I’m getting a FaceTime from Kendal,” Tinkle said. “We’re talking about the game and I was like ‘this is crazy, I was literally just looking up your box score’ but he knows what that OSU and UO game is about. I like to say he’s a Beaver at heart. It’s cool to have him on board and cheering you on.”
“I was happy for him because anytime the Ducks lose to Oregon State, I love that,” Manuel added with a laugh.
Though Manuel and the rest of the Grizzlies were bummed about the loss to PSU, both players have enjoyed seeing each other do their thing.
“It means the world to me especially knowing what he’s been through. He’s been through a lot of adversity and I’ve never seen someone work as hard as Tres does and it’s starting to show,” Manuel said. “My biggest thing I’ve been telling him is ‘just go out and do your thing and put everyone on notice’ because, yeah he’s putting up all of these numbers but I think he’s underrated. He doesn’t get the notice from everyone else that he should.
“So I think that him going out here and doing his thing is showing and how hard he works and also just the type of person he is.”
After three years as teammates, the two are finding successes at their schools. But both keep track of and in touch with one another as if they were still roommates.
The two often tweet at one another offering their support and congratulations if one or the other has a highlight posted or contributes a big performance. That usually follows with a text or FaceTime call catching up.
Tinkle and Manuel say they speak every day with FaceTime and Snapchat serving as the most popular forms of communication. While the two could be seen as best friends, they’ll offer that they’re even closer than that.
“Blood couldn’t make us closer,” Manuel said. “He and I are truly brothers in a sense.”
Tinkle and Manuel’s friendship is similar to the way it was back in high school. Despite living five hours apart – Manuel competing for Billings Skyview and Tinkle at Missoula Hellgate – the two would communicate almost every day.
“It’s easy with our technology these days being able to FaceTime each other. We’re always snap-chatting, whatever it may be,” Manuel said. “That’s my best friend so we’re always keeping in touch.”
Manuel said the two met in eighth grade at Hoopfest in Spokane, Washington, through former Griz and current Rocky Mountain College standout Jared Samuelson. Eventually, the group played AAU basketball together and the friendship grew from there with long car rides serving as time to get to know one another.
“We just connected. It’s just one of those things when you meet someone who has the same goals and has the same mindset as you,” Manuel said. “Tres and I both have had that same mindset and connection since we were young. It’s still there to this day and he’s my best friend. It’s been nice having someone by your side that is thinking the same way that you are.”
In fact, Manuel views the entire Tinkle family as his second home.
“Coach (Wayne) Tinkle, I grew up having him around and he was pretty much a father figure for me. Mama Lisa, and I still call her that, and then the girls Joslyn and Elle, they’re like my older sisters and they’ve always been there supporting me,” Manuel said.
Added Tinkle, “We call each other’s mom, ‘mom’ and it’s cool to see that he’s very close with my sisters as well. He was coming up for Sunday dinners when he was here and you don’t think anything of it except for just another brother so it was very cool and special that we were able to do so much together.
“He’s someone I met through another friend that just ultimately turned into family more than anything.”
The two were roommates last year in Corvallis and would do everything together, from practice, to hanging out and even going to Portland Trail Blazers games or driving to the Oregon coast.
“There’s just a ton of memories that we’ll never forget,” Tinkle said. “He has a huge heart for people and he wants to help. He puts a smile on everyone’s face. He’s a very thoughtful person. He can tell when you’re upset and he’s going to do everything he can to treat you well and be there for you.
“That’s one of the things people don’t really know about him is the heart he has. Where he comes from and his whole life story, to be that way, is honestly almost shocking. He’s someone that could’ve very easily thrown in the towel but he continues to fight and still be there for people he cares most about when you need him.”
Even through his transfer to Montana, Manuel said the entire family was as supportive as possible, knowing that he was making a move best suited for his needs. While that move was difficult for all parties involved, everyone understood why it was happening.
For Tres, the family feeling is mutual.
“Obviously I miss him so much for leaving but you always have to do what’s best for you and at the end of the day, that’s family,” Tinkle said. “You can’t hold any kind of grudge and to see him doing well makes me and the rest of my family happy.
“It’s a bond that can’t be broken and something I don’t take for granted at all.”
Manuel pointed to the Oregon game as an example. Tinkle rolled his ankle in the second half but returned quickly to pace the Beavers in scoring. His 28 points tied his second-highest scoring output of the season, behind the 32 he scored against Penn on Nov. 19.
Tinkle is stating his case to earn the Pac-12 Player of the Year award. The redshirt junior is top 10 in the conference in per-game stats for points (2nd, 20.5), rebounds (5th, 8.6), assists (6th, 4.2) and steals (10th, 1.31). His points per game mark ranks 37th nationally.
But when you ask Manuel about it, he saw it coming.
“I knew it just because of how hard he was working this summer,” Manuel said. “Me and Tres, we keep in touch every single day and anytime I was hitting him up, he’d go ‘I’m going to the gym,’ or ‘I just got back from the gym.’ It was just something I could see that was going to bloom for him this year and I’m happy for him because I know what his goals are.
“Hopefully if he keeps this up, all of his dreams will come true.”
Manuel, a redshirt junior, has carved out a nice role as a reserve for Montana. After getting cleared to play right away for the Griz, he is usually the first or second player off of the bench, sometimes even playing a starter’s worth of minutes. Through 15 games as arguably Montana’s best deep threat, Manuel is averaging 8.7 points per game (a career high) while shooting at a 40.4 percent clip from 3-point range.
Manuel’s previous career-high was 20 points, which came his redshirt freshman year at OSU against Washington State on Jan. 4, 2017.
“I’m very proud of him and I’ve always known what he’s capable of doing,” Tinkle said. “He was kind of under-looked coming out of high school. He’d go on the AAU circuit and do his thing. We were a very solid AAU team and we’d beat nationally ranked AAU teams. So I always told him, because I knew he was frustrated with it, ‘you know what you can do, just hang in there, everyone’s story is different.’
“My dad knew his character, the type of person he was, his skill set and the values he had and he offered him to come play here. It’s just a cool story to see how people weren’t really believing in him and what he could do. He had success at the Pac-12 and wanted to be closer to home and now he’s playing for Montana. He’s doing great there now and he’s going to continue to get better so I’m really excited for him.”
As their synchronization goes on, Tinkle calls it “special.”
“Especially coming from Montana,” Tinkle said. “It’s a place that I really think gets under-looked with sports and athletics in general. So to have two Division I guys having success is awesome. What we do is try to put Montana on the map and be role models for others who follow in our footsteps just because we know what Montana is capable of doing. It’s something we talk about all the time.
“When our time is done, it’s something that we’re really going to be able to reflect upon and it’s going to be that much more meaningful.”