Nico and Pace Mannion: A Bond Through Basketball

The Father-Son Duo — Both Drafted by The Warriors — Discuss Their Relationship, Draft Night, And More

Draft night for rookie Warrior Nico Mannion did not go quite as expected. The 19-year-old guard who had high school and college accolades was coming off a solid freshman year at the University of Arizona, but he was picked 48th overall by the Warriors.

“Falling to 48, I was honestly mad about it at first.”

His father, Pace Mannion, had been though the rigors of a draft day and the NBA grind himself and could comfort Nico when he was down.

But coming from a different era when the NBA Draft had 226 picks over 10 rounds, Pace’s draft day experience was certainly different from Nico’s, too.

“The draft process wasn’t anything like it is now,” said Pace. “Back then it was still 10 rounds so you didn’t know how long you were going to wait. They didn’t have all the (mock drafts) and things they do now.”

“I went out and golfed the day of the draft… I was drafted 43rd. Somebody came out on the golf course and told me. I finished my round.”

Meet Pace and Nico Mannion, the father-son duo who both were drafted by the Golden State Warriors. Pace was drafted into the NBA by the Dubs in 1983 out of the University of Utah and went on to play for six NBA teams over six seasons before playing the bulk of his professional career in Italy. Thirty-seven years after picking his father, the Warriors selected Nico Mannion in the 2020 NBA Draft.

The two came from vastly different eras — from how the game is played to how many picks and rounds were in their respective NBA Drafts — but they share many things in common, including their love for the game of basketball and each other.

Nico was born to Pace and Gaia Bianchi in Siena, Tuscany on March 14, 2001. They relocated twice during Nico’s childhood, first moving to Salt Lake City where Pace was a pre- and post-game analyst for the Utah Jazz, then settled in Phoenix, Arizona where Nico eventually played high school hoops. As far back as he could remember, Nico was around Pace and basketball.

It was almost inevitable that being at Jazz games and growing up under his father that Nico would want to be a part of the sport himself.

“Our relationship would be the same if I played basketball or not,” Nico told in an exclusive interview. And this was a sentiment echoed by Pace when he spoke with us separately, saying, “He’s always my son first.”

“But I think our relationship grew with the basketball part of it as well,” continued Pace.

The bond forged through basketball became stronger as Nico grew, as father and son would enjoy their time watching the NBA and basketball evolve through the 2000s and 2010s.

“He used to record games when I was little,” Nico recounted, “and I’d come home from school or practice or whatever it was, and we’d sit down and watch games.”

“It was almost like film work without even knowing it,” he said.

The early indicators became clearer as he grew: Nico had a passion for the game he grew up around and that his father had played. Wanting to give Nico the opportunity to develop in the sport, Pace did what he could to let Nico get every opportunity possible: “I put him in situations to be successful and continue to feed the fire that he had.”

“Once he figured out that’s what he wanted to do and he fell in love with the game,” said Pace, “then it was just a matter of throwing him into situations that were going to be good for him. And as a dad, those are fairly easy to find if you’re a basketball guy.”

Although basketball was the lifeblood of the family, Pace never went overboard on finishing the game on his son.

“He never forced me to play. I was around the game so I just wanted to play,” Nico told with passion. “He never forced me to workout, forced me to be in the gym, which is why I still love the game as much as I do.”

Nico is in the NBA because of his own drive and natural talent, as well as because of the work he and his father put in together.

“He’s the one that taught me how to shoot, how to dribble, all my first stuff in basketball came from him,” Nico said of his dad, who took his cumulative 18 years of professional basketball experience and used it to teach Nico the ropes. “Really my whole game is from him.”

But the lessons Pace has given Nico have gone beyond just game of the basketball. Besides drills and skills, Pace has given the rookie Dub fatherly knowledge that can be used in the NBA and through life.

“I’d say the biggest thing I took away from him was just consistency and hard work,” recollected Nico. “That’s the kind of guy he was in the NBA: he was more of a defensive guy… That’s something that he’s tried to instill in me is work hard every day, have a good attitude.”

So after years of practice, teaching and developing a strong bond between them, how does the young Nico compare to the NBA and international basketball veteran Pace?

“Nico is much better than I was,” said Pace with unwavering certainty.

“The one thing that Nico has is a belief in himself that I wasn’t sure I had,” continued Pace. “He’s mentally tougher than I was. I would like to take credit for that, or at least some credit, because I’ve been trying to instill that in him since he was little.”

“And I think it’s paid off for him,” he continued. “He’s not afraid of the moment. He’s not afraid of the big shot.”

Through his father’s help and guidance, Nico’s skill and character became unquestionable through his early playing years. In 2019 while at Pinnacle High School, he was named the National High School Coaches Association (NHSCA) Senior Athlete of the Year as well as a McDonald’s All-American. His one year at the University of Arizona ended with All-Pac-12 Second Team and All-Rookie honors. As a dual citizen with his Italian connection, Nico even played internationally on Team Italy in the 2017 FIBA Europe Under-16 Championship and 2019 FIBA World Cup.

Despite the résumé and pedigree, draft night did not go quite as Nico had hoped.

“In my mind I should have been drafted higher,” Nico said. “But then I realized I was coming to a system and a place like Golden State. I realized everything that Golden State had to offer for me and everything I could learn here, I was super happy. This is really the best place I could be.”

And those are keys that Pace noted would be important for Nico’s development: “My dad kinda told me that… at the end of the day it’s about fit. That’s the biggest thing he emphasized to me.”

Pace said of Nico being on the Warriors: “It’s a good fit style-wise. It’s a good fit with who they have on their roster. And the way (Head Coach Steve Kerr) coaches, it couldn’t be better for him.”

As the 43rd overall pick in the 1983 draft by the Warriors, Pace Mannion played 57 games with the squad in his rookie season. He went on to play for the Utah Jazz, New Jersey Nets, Milwaukee Bucks, Detroit Pistons and Atlanta Hawks before playing in Italy for 12 years.

But come draft night, the fact that he was drafted into the NBA by the same franchise as his dad did not even occur to Nico.

“It didn’t even hit me that my dad had been drafted there,” he said. “And then on TV when they announced it, that’s when it really hit me. I was like ‘oh, my dad got drafted here too,’ so that just made it super surreal.”

“I really don’t think it’s a coincidence, I don’t think there’s coincidences,” affirmed Nico.

But now a member of the Warriors, Nico’s journey has only just begun. With limited playing time available, he waited until Jan. 4 to make his NBA debut when he logged his lone eight minutes of the season. But soon, he will head to the G League bubble in Orlando to play with the Santa Cruz Warriors. That will be his opportunity to show what he can do in extended runs against professional basketball players.

So having been on the professional level himself, what kind of wisdom was Pace able to give Nico to prepare for his moment?

"I think the first thing you tell him is: ‘With the hard work you put in, you deserve to be there. You’re talented enough, you’re good enough to be in that league. Just go prove that every day.’”

“As a dad it was just ‘I’m proud of you,’” he continued.

Pace certainly had a proud moment when the squad visited the Utah Jazz, where Pace had played and been a television analyst, and hit his first NBA three-pointer with his family watching in the crowd. And now with the G League season coming, Nico is ready to bring it on the hardwood. When asked what he looked forward to this season, Nico simply said: “Just competing.”

“Competing every day in practice. Competing when I get my minutes on the floor… and just learning. I know I’m still 19, I’m a rookie, I’m a young guy in this league so I’m willing to learn.”

Hard work is nothing new to the Mannions. Nico knows of the trials and tribulations his father went through to continue his professional basketball career as a rugged defensive-minded guard. And now Pace will get to watch Nico fulfill his own dreams while cheering in his corner.

“All of the work he put in I got to see it on a daily basis… as a dad I couldn’t be prouder of him,” said Pace.

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