When Danny Manning was a basketball player at Kansas, he made miracles happen. It’s going to be a little tougher as the coach at Tulsa.
The Golden Hurricane aren’t at the miracle stage yet, as they showed Wednesday night during an 86-60 loss to Wichita State at Koch Arena. An already thin team beset by injuries couldn’t keep up with a Shocker team that gets more interesting by the day.
At least Manning, who put Kansas on his back and led the Jayhawks to the 1988 national championship, was received warmly by a Wichita State crowd that, well, isn’t all that fond of its KU neighbors.
When Manning was introduced before the game, there was a smattering of boos. But they were quickly drowned out by the smart folks inside Koch who recognize Manning for the icon he is, whether he’s associated with crimson and blue or the blue and gold of Tulsa.
“That was nice, that was nice,” Manning said after the game. “I’m very thankful for that. But it wasn’t very hospitable after that.”
No it wasn’t.
None of the Shockers were even born when Danny and the Miracles cut down the nets at Kemper Arena by beating Oklahoma in the national championship game.
And WSU coach Gregg Marshall was a young assistant at Belmont Abbey in Charlotte, N.C.
“Barely making five figures a year,” Marshall said. “And I’m talking about one dollar less and I would have been making four figures. In order to get to five figures I had to paint the pool that summer.”
Marshall, though, watched from the stands as Kansas knocked off Duke in the national semifinals. And he was in the family room of a Belmont Abbey booster two nights later, he said, watching Manning and Kansas upset Oklahoma to cap one of the most improbable NCAA Tournament runs ever.
“I did follow that KU team some and was actually pulling for them in the tournament,” Marshall said.
Manning went on to have an outstanding NBA career, though one cut short by injuries. For the past nine years, Manning was on Bill Self’s coaching staff at Kansas, where he was regarded as one of the best big-man coaches in the country.
It was a bit of a surprise when, during KU’s Final Four run last season, Manning took the Tulsa job. I’m not sure why it was a surprise, though. Maybe it’s because there’s an assumption, for whatever reason, that great players don’t make great coaches.
Marshall isn’t so sure about that.
“He’s off to a good start,” said Marshall, a so-so college player who has proven himself to be a terrific coach. “They have some nice young talent. They run the Kansas system which I think is very good, obviously. It’s yet to be seen what kind of coach he’ll be, but I think he’s off to a good start.”
Manning filled his coaching staff with a bunch of guys who should be familiar to basketball fans in Kansas. That staff includes former Wichita South players Steve Woodberry and Wendell Moore, both of whom have been coaching for a while now.
Brett Ballard, a former KU player who had been the head coach at Baker the past two seasons, is also on Manning’s staff, as is former Tulsa standout Shea Seals, who knows a thing or two about the Hurricane-Shocker rivalry back in the day.
It’s not such a hot rivalry now, because Tulsa isn’t capable of holding up its end. College basketball has fizzled in that city, where sparse crowds have become the norm. It’s Manning’s job to inject some Nolan Richardson into his team.
“I think we have the resources,” he said. “We have some work to do, obviously. There are 11 guys on scholarship right now and this summer when we were recruiting we didn’t see two other guys out there that we wanted to give scholarships to. So we saved them for this upcoming class.
“Every day for us we have to continue to build, scrap and fight to get our foundation and establish ourselves. We’re going to play hard, be unselfish and hopefully from there we’ll be able to build something.”
Woodberry moved from Missouri State, where he was an assistant to Paul Lusk, to join Manning in Tulsa. He said he’s excited by the future.
“I think Danny is going to be a very successful head coach,” said Woodberry, who played at Kansas from 1990-94. “He’s got the personality that makes players love to come and talk to him and have a good time, but he’ll also get on them and make sure they’re doing the right things.”
Manning made his offseason home in Lawrence when he was in the NBA and Woodberry said they connected in those summers, playing basketball and hanging out.
“I was looking forward to a challenge and a change,” Woodberry said of his Tulsa move. “That’s nothing against Missouri State, but I looked at this as a great opportunity to get to move and work with Danny and hopefully help turn things around.”
Manning has dug in, determined to put in the time and hard work to make it happen. He knows he has used his quota of miracles.