NEW ORLEANS Coaching rumors are a Kansas staple at the Final Four.
In 2003, the run-up was about Roy Williams and his dance with North Carolina.
In 2008, the rumor mill churned over Oklahoma State making a massive offer to lure favorite son Bill Self.
This year, the news revolves around assistant coaches, and that’s the difference this time.
It’s news. Not rumors.
Thursday, Danny Manning was named Tulsa’s coach, one day after Barry Hinson was introduced at Southern Illinois.
The Jayhawks meet Ohio State on Saturday knowing two coaches won’t be with them in a matter of days.
“Losing them is huge,” guard Travis Releford said. “But right now we can’t think of them not being with us.”
Manning and Hinson will be Jayhawks through the Final Four, and by having the coaching announcements made two days before the national semifinal, Kansas took the distraction off the table.
“I told the schools that I was fine with this, but let’s do it now,” Self said. “I don’t want rumors and everybody being interviewed and having to lie. Let’s get it out of the way now.”
At a team dinner on Wednesday, Self told his players that Hinson had gotten the Southern Illinois job and that Manning’s departure was looking likely.
“This isn’t a distraction for us,” Self said. “Danny and Barry aren’t working on Tulsa and Southern Illinois right now.”
Players said the departures would be difficult to fill. Manning had gained a reputation for developing the Jayhawks’ post players, and eight of them have been NBA Draft selections since he joined the staff in 2003.
Thomas Robinson will be the ninth. The junior forward is expected to announce his intention to enter the NBA Draft after his junior season.
“What he did for my career, I can’t even explain how much he raised my game,” Robinson said.
Another of Manning’s projects is Jeff Withey. He entered this season with a 2.0 career scoring average and brings a 9.2 average into Saturday’s game. Also, Withey was named Big 12 defensive player of the year and averages 3.5 blocks.
Much of the credit, Withey said, goes to Manning.
“He’s meant so much to me, and it’s going to be sad to see him go,” Withey said. “He gave me a lot of confidence. Every day we work with him, we get up shots with him. He works with our footwork, post moves, tricks we can use. He’ll definitely be missed.”
Four years ago, Self’s name was associated with his alma mater after Oklahoma State had fired Sean Sutton. Fans were concerned that oilman and Oklahoma State top booster T. Boone Pickens would make a megabuck offer that would be difficult to refuse.
Rumors ran rampant around San Antonio, the Final Four site. Pickens was offering to make Self the highest-paid coach, even give him a $6 million signing bonus. Self blocked rumors throughout the weekend.
“People talked about it a lot, but it wasn’t a distraction,” Self said.
Obviously not, after the Jayhawks rallied past Memphis to win the national championship.
In 2003, Kansas dealt with Roy Williams-to-North Carolina rumors from the moment the Tar Heels’ fired Matt Doherty in late March.
The story followed the Jayhawks to New Orleans, and became so much a part of the story line that when CBS reporter Bonnie Bernstein asked Williams about North Carolina after the Jayhawks had just lost in the championship game to Syracuse, Williams let out an expletive.
“I don’t give a … about North Carolina right now,” Williams snapped. “I have 13 kids in that locker room.” And he walked away.
The good news for the Jayhawks is they’ve played well in those coaching rumor Final Fours. In 2003, Kansas blew out a Dwyane Wade-led Marquette team before falling to Syracuse.
And 2008 was no bother at all, as the victories over North Carolina and Memphis attested.