When Danny Manning was a young boy, he used to spend hours in the gym with his father. Ed Manning was a former college star at Jackson State who would bounce around for years in the NBA and ABA — “a journeyman,” Danny says — and his son always studied all the little tricks that helped him survive on a basketball court.
“I always wanted to be a coach,” Manning says. “My father was a coach.”
If you are wondering why a former NBA All-Star — a former No. 1 draft pick who made millions in his 15-year career — would want to spend nine years climbing the assistant coaching ladder at his alma mater … and then take even more pressure and responsibility by becoming the coach for a Conference USA school, this is Manning’s best explanation.
On Wednesday afternoon — 24 years to the day after he led Kansas to the 1988 NCAA championship at Kemper Arena — Manning officially became Tulsa’s 29th coach.
The news conference was mere formality. Tulsa had announced the hiring last week as Kansas prepared for the Final Four in New Orleans. But on Wednesday, Manning finally had opportunity to introduce himself to the Tulsa basketball community. He talked about how Kansas coach Bill Self, a former coach at Tulsa, and former KU coach Larry Brown had been instrumental in convincing him that Tulsa was the right place to begin his own head coaching career.
Self’s best advice? “Win games,” Manning said, smiling.
He spent a few minutes explaining a style of play that will no doubt feel familiar to KU fans — pressure man-to-man defense, points in transition, lots of ball screens. But mostly, Manning expressed his hunger to coach and influence young people.
“I was always in the gym,” Manning said. “Probably not paying attention as much as I should at that early age, but being around it.
“Having the experiences, and playing for some of the coaches that I’ve played for, knowing how they impacted my life — I have a lot that I want to share, and a lot that I want to give.”
That started, Manning said, with his father, who famously came to Kansas to be an assistant under Brown in the early 1980s. Ed Manning, of course, just happened to be the father of one of the best high school players in the country. And soon enough, Danny Manning was finishing his high school career at Lawrence High. More than 25 years later, Manning, 45, has never really left, spending every NBA offseason in Lawrence since leaving campus in 1988.
“Kansas is home,” Manning said.
Still, Manning said the opportunity to head a program that was once guided by such coaches as Nolan Richardson, Tubby Smith and Self was an opportunity he couldn’t refuse.
“He’ll represent the school in a first-class way,” said Self, who coached at Tulsa from 1997-2000. “He’ll recruit good kids that can play, and he’ll coach their tails off. He’ll have Tulsa competing for championships in a very short time. I personally think it will be a great marriage for both parties.”
Manning also will bring a little of Kansas with him. Former KU player Brett Ballard, who spent the past two seasons as the coach at Baker, will join Manning in Tulsa as an assistant coach. And Justin Bauman, a former KU manager, also will be a member of the staff after a short stint as an assistant under Rex Walters at San Francisco.
Now, Manning takes over a team that finished 17-14, leading to the firing of Doug Wojcik. It’s a program that hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament in nine years. But it’s also a school that Self led to the Elite Eight in 2000. And the goal, Manning says, starts with the NCAA Tournament.
“We’d like to do it next year,” he said. “We’d like to. We’d like to.”
“It’s a process, we understand that,” he added. “But we’re going to put our best foot forward, build and work every day.”