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"I'm so excited"
Danny Manning, the 6-10 do-it-all forward who scouts were already comparing to Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, dribbled the ball upcourt on the game's first possession, stopped on a dime just behind the free-throw line and released the jumper.
It hit nothing but net as the LHS gym rocked like never before.
On Lawrence High's next possession, Manning dribbled the ball upcourt, pulled up at the same spot behind the free-throw line and shot the ball.
Swish. The crowd came to their feet again and roared even louder.
Those were some of my first memories of Daniel Ricardo Manning.
Now, after leading LHS to one of its best seasons in school history, carving an All-American career at Kansas and spearheading the Jayhawks to the 1988 NCAA title, playing 15 years in the NBA (two-time All-Star) and then serving the past nine seasons on the KU basketball staff (the last five as as assistant coach), where he received due credit as one of the best big man coaches in the college game, Manning is looking to bring crowds to their feet once more as the new head coach of the Tulsa Golden Hurricane.
This once bright-eyed Lawrence High teenager can't wait to begin the next chapter in his life as a wise 45-year-old Basketball Jones who could be the best thing to happen to Tulsa basketball since Bill Self led the Golden Hurricane to the Elite Eight in 2000.
Manning, who was introduced as head coach on April 4, is ready to get started at a job he calls a "tremendous opportunity."
"We look forward to becoming a part of the fabric of the TU family. I'm so excited," Manning said. "It's going to be a lot of fun. It will be a lot of hard work. We're willing to put in the hard work and we will put in the hard work. (At the) end of the day we'll stack up the wins and losses, but more importantly we want to make sure when people leave here they're quality young men ready to take the world on and make someone else's life better. That's how we're going to build our foundation, from the ground up. "
After failing to make the NCAA tournament since 2003 and seeing a 35-percent decrease in season ticket sales since 2005, TU athletics director Ross Parmley believes Manning is the man to take the program to the next level. He replaces the fired Doug Wojcik, who spent seven seasons at Tulsa and guided the Golden Hurricane to a 17-14 record this past year.
"We are extremely excited to have Danny join The University of Tulsa as our new head basketball coach," Parmley said. "He epitomizes everything our university stands for. His impact on young people will extend far beyond the TU basketball program and reach well into our campus and community. His 15 years in the NBA combined with the last nine years under one of the best coaches (Self) in the country, have helped mold him into a great teacher and coach of basketball. He most definitely brings the excitement, the style of basketball, and character that we were looking for in our head coach."
It had to be a special job to lure Manning away from Kansas, and the former Jayhawk star said Tulsa was the perfect fit. He was blown away by the "beautiful campus," outstanding facilities and rich basketball history. Three former Tulsa coaches (Self, Nolan Richardson and Tubby Smith) had great success with the Golden Hurricane before moving on to win a national championship at other schools.
"We were comfortable there (at KU)," Manning said. "But the more I spoke with coach Self, the more I spoke with coach (Larry) Brown about the opportunity of coming to TU and being a part of this rich tradition, it became a no-brainer. To get a job of this magnitude as my first job is unbelievable."
Manning said he got great feedback from Self about the Tulsa job. Self was head coach at TU from 1997-2000.
"Coach Self and his wife rave about Tulsa," Manning said. "They rave about TU, the athletic side of it, the community, the university. They had nothing but love. That has really made the transition easier mentally for me and I think for my wife and our kids, as well."
While Self knows losing Manning is a great blow for KU, he couldn't be happier for him landing his first head coaching gig.
"Danny Manning is one of the most accomplished, humble people you'll ever meet," Self said. "He's done more in his life through the athletic world than just about anybody, but you would never know it in visiting with him as he never ever talks about himself. His focus on deciding to be a basketball coach was to try to share some of his knowledge and make others better. He's certainly done that at a very high level with us here at Kansas. He's been around basketball his whole life, played for so many coaches, been able to steal from everybody and has developed a vast knowledge that will certainly play a huge role in his success as a head coach.
"Although 45 years old, he's well beyond those in basketball years as far as experience. The University of Tulsa has not only hired a great person and a great ambassador, but also a man that will lead Tulsa to great heights athletically and be competing for championships in a very short amount of time."
Self added: "Who wouldn't want their son to be mentored by a guy who has everything you want your son to be? Think about it: he graduated, won a national championship, and was the No. 1 pick in the draft, an Olympian, two-time NBA All-Star, family man, has his priorities straight. Who wouldn't want their son mentored by a guy like that on a daily basis?"
Brown, who coached Manning at KU and in the NBA with the Los Angeles Clippers, believes Manning will thrive at Tulsa. He's long known the Jayhawk legend would be a successful coach.
"I think he's going to be as good a college coach as you want," Brown once said. "He has all the qualities there."
While many great players don't always manage the transition to coaching (Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas, for one, was just fired as head coach at Florida International after three seasons and previously fired after head coaching stints with the Indiana Pacers and New York Knicks), Manning has been one of the exceptions so far. He was always a thinking man's player known as one of the most intelligent players in the NBA, and now he's a thinking man's coach with great patience and uncanny ability to relate to his players.
Manning's coach at LHS, Ted Juneau, always thought his star pupil had a high basketball IQ.
"Bill Self and I talked about this once," Juneau once told me. "The game is in slow motion to him, being sped up for everybody else. He is able to always look one, two, or three passes ahead. He (has) a knowledge and the understanding of the game that is really special.
"I think the thing about Danny is great players sometimes don't know why they're great," Juneau added. "They're just great athletes who make the game look easy for them. Danny was a great athlete, but he understood why he was so good. I think that's key is the fundamentals his dad (Ed) taught him. I think it really made him a good player, but he's also able to teach those skills to other kids."
Manning said he always knew he wanted to coach. After all, he grew up being mentored by his dad, who was a former NBA and ABA player and an assistant under Brown during Danny's collegiate career. Even at age 5, Manning was around basketball and his dad, dribbling the ball on the sidelines during Ed's practices with the Brown-coached ABA's Carolina Cougars.
Manning spoke glowingly of his late father at his introductory press conference. Ed died in March 2011.
"I believe he'd be proud," Manning said. "He got me into the game, showed me how to do things. He was someone in his professional career that was a journeyman, played on a lot of different teams. He had to do the dirty work, play the defense, dive on the floor, do all those small things that make teams work. I learned to appreciate that at a very early age. That's one of the biggest compliments I ever heard given a player was someone told my dad, ‘I enjoy playing with you because you made the game easier for me.' I think that's a wonderful compliment. That's something we want to have as a team. "
You can bet Manning's Tulsa teams will play unselfish, team basketball. Manning certainly was the consummate team player and learned from his dad and Brown about the importance of team ball. Brown preached the mantra: "Good ones do for themselves. Great ones do for others."
"There's not a day that goes by in practice that I don't think of coach Brown," Manning said at his induction to the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008. "Coach Brown always used to tell us, ‘Go out and play hard. You play together and you play unselfishly.' Those are the big things that I've always carried with me."
Manning's coaching style will also include playing "up-tempo" basketball.
"We want to be a team that plays pressure man-to-man defense without giving up easy buckets, scores in transition, gets down the court, gets into some type of motion offense where the ball goes from one side of the court to the other, give the defenses a chance to break down, then attack," Manning said. "We'll incorporate a lot of ball screens and give our ball handlers a chance of getting into the paint and create."
Manning, who basketball experts once predicted would revolutionize the forward position, now looks to revolutionize Tulsa hoops, where he'll continue to fulfill his life work.
"I enjoy the game of college basketball. It's a lot of energy, a lot of excitement, a lot of fun," he said. "I also enjoy the off-the-court side of it, spending time with the young men in terms of helping them grow up, sharing experiences. I think that's pretty much what life is all about. I've been very fortunate and blessed to have the experiences that I have. A lot of people helped me out along the way. I feel I need to share some of my experiences, the different things I've learned with the next generation. Hopefully they can do that and it just moves on down the road."
Manning, who was on the road many times during his NBA career playing for seven different teams, said he hopes Tulsa is his last stop.
He dreams of making it a very memorable one and win national championships like former Tulsa coaches Richardson, Smith and Self did at Arkansas, Kentucky and Kansas, respectively.
"We look forward to hanging some banners of our own," Manning said.
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