Rising stars: Julian (Juju) Manson ’26 and Grace Fincham ’26

As the only freshman starters on the boys and girls varsity basketball lineups, Julian (Juju) Manson and Grace Fincham reflect on the transition to high school and their first seasons.


Lily Prochaska, Print Sports Editor

WSS: When did you first get into basketball?

Julian (Juju) Manson ’26: I first got into basketball at about [age] seven but started taking it seriously in sixth grade.

Grace Fincham ’26: I first started playing basketball in third grade.


WSS: What is it like being a freshman on the varsity team?

JM: At first, being a freshman on varsity felt very stressful because there was a lot of pressure on me to excel against more experienced players. As the season went on, I felt more comfortable and started to gain confidence in my role on the court.

GF: It’s been really fun playing with upperclassmen and learning how to transition into high school basketball.


WSS: What was the transition like from junior high basketball to high school basketball?

JM: Junior high wasn’t that serious and was more about everyone playing and having fun. It definitely wasn’t nearly as competitive as high school basketball.

GF: High school season is longer than junior high season, but being able to play four years of club basketball has helped me with the transition.


WSS: Which different teams have you played for?

JM: I moved to Iowa about a year and a half ago. The summer before my eighth-grade year, I worked all summer to make [the club basketball team] All Iowa Attack. It was just me and my dad working outside at the park every day.

GF: Elementary recreation league basketball with Iowa City Thunder, two seasons with Team Iowa and the last four years I have played for All Iowa Attack.

WSS: What are the differences between club basketball and high school basketball?

JM: High school basketball and club basketball, or AAU, are completely different. High school basketball is more team-oriented, and every high school team has a main goal at hand: a state championship. AAU is different because, during that season, you really want to showcase your talent to help expose yourself to colleges.

GF: One of the biggest differences is, for club basketball, we usually practice 2-3 times a week with tournaments on most weekends. Whereas in high school basketball, you practice six times a week and have two games.


WSS: What are your goals for the next few years?

JM: One of my goals for the next few years is to win a state championship by the time I graduate. West has really good athletes in all classes, and I think we could win at least one. I also want to improve individually and start getting recognition from colleges.

GF: I would like to be a starter for the next three years, and I want to help develop younger players as we work towards a state basketball championship.


WSS: How have you become close with the upperclassmen on the team?

JM: The upperclassmen [are] easygoing and really tried to make me feel comfortable when the season first began. As the season went on, [senior] Abdul Abdalla was the one who continuously worked out with me, helped me with plays and just talked with me about life. Having someone who’s older than you but is still in the same school is really beneficial. There is a big difference in how seniors and freshmen think, and Abdul has taught me his perspectives throughout this season.

GF: Practicing with the upperclassmen, team dinners and team-building activities have helped me develop a close relationship with them and the team.


WSS: Who is someone you look up to?

JM: One person I look up to is my dad. He has five state championships under his belt, four in football and one in basketball. He was a hometown hero and later went on to play at the University of Iowa. I want to talk about my high school experiences with my kids [too]. I also look up to my mother. I feel like she helps me ground myself not only in sports but in life. She’s also my biggest supporter in everything that I do.

GF: I admire Kate Martin at the University of Iowa for her selfless approach as a team player and her ‘never give up’ work ethic.


WSS: Do you have a quote or saying that you live by?

JM: A quote I live by is [from Kobe Bryant]: ‘If you’re afraid to fail, then you’re probably going to fail.’ This became relevant to me once I started playing varsity. I used to be hesitant about my decision-making on the court. I started listening to Kobe’s interviews to hear the mindset of one of the best NBA players to play. If anybody knew one thing about Kobe, he was not scared to take control of the game. He also understood that if things didn’t go his way, he would be the one with the blame, and that didn’t phase him at all.

GF: Make a difference.


WSS: So far, what has been your greatest accomplishment as an athlete?

JM: My greatest accomplishment as an athlete right now is starting varsity as a freshman. It has been my biggest goal since I started eighth grade. My dad made me write this goal down in my notes so I can have a place to keep goals and reflect on them. What really pushed me to accomplish this goal was a West High alumni [telling] us, ‘[the coach] doesn’t play freshmen unless you’re good at hooping.’ His words really stuck with me because it felt like he didn’t believe any of us would play. Now, I look back on that moment and laugh at how wrong he was.

GF: Not only playing varsity basketball as a freshman, but being able to contribute to our team has been a great accomplishment of mine. Also, being chosen to play on the All Iowa Attack Nike EYBL team.