Growing up the youngest of eight kids, Lisa Blais Manning learned early how to earn her spot in the family driveway basketball games.
“To be asked to play, you had to be good enough,” Manning said. “There was no crying. It made me competitive.”
Manning learned her lessons well. She went on to lead Westbrook High to four straight Class A state titles, then played on a Division I NCAA national championship team at Old Dominion in Norfolk, Virginia, where she was a senior tri-captain.
Thursday night, Manning will be inducted in the inaugural class of the Maine Basketball Hall of Fame at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor. Manning is one of the 16 players being inducted along with four coaches, a contributor and a referee.
“I feel pretty humble about going in the first year,” said Manning, 51, a Scarborough resident known as Lisa Blais in her playing days.
Manning had five brothers and two sisters. Twins Jim and John were the closest to her in age, 21/2 years older. Many of her driveway games were with them and their friends. They were always competitive and usually intense.
“My brother Jim was the only one who gave me a black eye,” said Manning of an unintentional elbow.
There was no crying then, either.
Manning always played sports – be it basketball, field hockey, track and field or softball – for the love of it, not the limelight.
“I liked to be behind the scenes. It was easy to do my talking with my play,” she said. “I always preferred to be the puppeteer, where no one sees you, not the puppet.”
Manning didn’t worry about the result, although Westbrook ran off 72 straight wins when she played.
“I just went out, played and had fun. You don’t like to get beat so you play hard,” said Manning, a shooting guard in both high school and college.
“We had quite the stacked team at Westbrook. We had height, we had guards and forwards.”
Manning scored 1,500 points in high school before the 3-point line.
The Blue Blazes captured state titles from 1978-81, winning the first three finals easily. But the 1981 game against Presque Isle came down to the final seconds. The winning points came when Coach Archie Manoogian used Manning as a decoy on the play.
Nancy Anthony Goan took the inbounds pass from Diana Harris and scored inside.
“I was pretty much left alone. Presque Isle had one last shot that bounced off the rim,” said Goan of the 61-59 victory.
“Lisa never wanted any attention on herself,” said Goan, who teaches art at Westbrook Middle School. “She was quick for a smile and joke for every occasion. Lisa never let on on how talented she was. She just went with the flow.”
In Manning’s senior year, Westbrook also won state titles in field hockey and softball. Manning decided to drop outdoor track that season because she wanted to play softball with her close friends.
“She’s someone who could play any sport. She’s coached for a long time at Scarborough and the only thing out of her mouth was always positive to the athletes. She’s the most humble person I know. I’m sure Lisa will be all embarrassed by this.”
On Sunday afternoons in the winter, Manning would watch the Boston Celtics.
“I admired John Havlicek, Jo Jo White, Larry Bird and his games against Magic Johnson. I wondered what level I could get to. I was going to challenge myself to play in college,” she said.
Manning played four years at Old Dominion, culminating in a national title in 1985. She started at shooting and point guard that season, then became the first player off the bench during the NCAA tournament. The Monarchs beat Georgia in Austin, Texas, in the title game.
“I couldn’t sleep the night before the game. The whole experience was tremendous,” she said.
Each Hall of Fame inductee has a speaker who will introduce them at the banquet. Kevin Millington, the Windham boys’ basketball coach, will introduce Manning.
“The main quality of Lisa’s I will talk about is the fact she was a winner,” said Millington. “I’ve got the Bill Russell of Maine high school basketball – or maybe the Larry Bird because her initials in high school (LB) were the same.
“The other quality is how humble she is. That’s just her character. Lisa will be a little bit uncomfortable with someone talking about her, but she’s really uncomfortable talking about herself. She was unassuming off the court and a fierce competitor on it.”
Manning is married to Ed Manning, a longtime basketball and field hockey official who retired from the insurance business. They have three children – Eddie Jr., who works at Hannaford; Christy Manning, Miss Maine Basketball in 2010 who recently graduated from Holy Cross College; and Kevin, a sophomore at USM.