And then an unassuming legend walks into the locker room and takes a seat. Danny Manning could have come in at 1:30 when the locker room was first open to the media, but that’s not his style. He’s never liked being the center of attention; he wanted the players to enjoy the spotlight of the NCAA tournament.
The media immediately shits gears and swarm the former Jayhawk superstar and one of the greatest players in college basketball history. Manning, who has served as KU’s director of student athlete development/team manager the last four years (he was also director of basketball operations in 2004-05), was promoted on Tuesday to assistant coach after KU aide Tim Jankovich became the new head coach at Illinois State. Manning will begin his new coaching duties at the end of the season.
The questions from the media come with rapid fire, one after another after another. But as humbly and graciously as ever, Manning answers them politely and talks softly about his new career move and other basketball related topics.
“I’m excited. I’m really looking forward to this promotion,” Manning said. “I feel very fortunate and very blessed to be in this position. The last four years have been a great learning experience for me. I’ve learned a lot from working with coach Self, Norm Roberts, Tim Jankovich, Kurtis Townsend, Joe Dooley, and the rest of the staff. This is the place I wanted to be. This is where my family wanted to be.”
Self tried to hire Manning as an assistant when he became head coach in April 2003.
“All along, I wanted to become an assistant,” Manning said. “Eventually, I hoped to get to this position, but I didn’t know exactly when. It’s better timing (now). Four years ago, I had retired from the NBA (after 15 years in the league). I had a lot of obligations I needed to take care of in regards to my family. ...My wife (Julie) has been wonderful and very accommodating. We discussed this with each other and, too, as a family (Danny and Julie have a son, Evan, and daughter, Taylor). We’re looking forward to it.”
Manning is indeed elated to take on a new chapter in his life and continue his association with the university.
“I can’t express it. I love the University of Kansas,” Manning said. “This is where I met my wife. This has always been home for us.”“Right now, I just want to get my feet wet in the coaching profession and learn as much as I can and be an invaluable resource to all of our student athletes and to our coaching staff,” Manning continued. “I feel I can generate open lines of communication and help the students athletes. That’s what I want to do. I can sit here and talk about the little things, but the bottom line is this is where I want to be. This is what I want to do. And it’s going to work.”
So would Manning have ever wanted to be an assistant coach at another place besides Kansas?
“It’s always something that would be on my radar, but not as big,” Manning said. “I have a tremendous amount of passion and love for the University of Kansas basketball program.”
Long regarded as one of the smartest players in basketball, Manning will bring a tremendous amount of experience to the team. He grew up watching his dad, Ed, play in the ABA and later played for Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown at Kansas. Ed served as Brown’s assistant. Danny also played for great NBA head coaches like George Karl in Milwaukee, Jerry Sloan at Utah, and Don Nelson in Dallas.
Ed has always served as an influential role model in Danny’s development both on and off the court. They keep in close contact with each other.
“I talked to him this morning,” Danny said. “He’s very happy for me, and he’ s excited also.”
Danny is now asked what he’s learned from his father that will help him in the coaching profession?
“A lot,” Danny replied. “I don’t think you have enough time. My father’s been my best coach, he’s been one of my better friends, he’s been one of my biggest critics. But he’s always been there with support.”
Brown, too, has played a big supporting role in Manning’s development at KU and later when he coached him with the Los Angeles Clippers. Manning said Brown taught him some important basketball lessons that will stick with him forever.
“The three things that I would say with coach Brown is to play hard, you play together, and you play unselfish,” Manning said. “That’s something that he always preached, and that’s something all the great coaches have echoed also.”
And Manning has always played hard and unselfish basketball. He’ll continue to teach those winning ways to his players in his new role as assistant coach. He’ll also try and recruit kids to play this type of basketball.
“I look forward to getting out on the road,” Manning said. “That’s going to be very challenging. When I get out there, I hope I can make some good contacts and establish some lines of communication with some prospective student athletes and go form there. For me, I’m just able to be in a situation where I can be a little bit more vocal and communicate and share with my guys during the course of the game and in practice.”
Manning, the all-time leading scorer and rebounder in KU history, said it’s been a joy working with the players these last four years and helping “our student athletes become better people on and off the court.” He looks forward to the future with hope and wonder.
“I enjoy sharing with the guys,” Manning said. “We talk about things, and we do things on the court and off the court. For me, it’s all about coaching. It’s about helping these young men develop. When they come to us, some of them are young men, some of them aren’t quite young men. But when they leave, they’re all men. When they come to us, they’re not part of the Kansas tradition, but when they leave, they are part of it. And that’s very special for us.”
True words spoken like a true coach.
More from Danny Manning
On the KU basketball team:
“I think we have tremendous balance. There’s not one particular person that has to have a great game for us to win. We have a lot of players that can step up and make plays for us and produce for us on every given night.”
On the similarities between his 1988 KU championship team and the 2006-07 ‘Hawks:
“I think we’re similar in the sense that we played a team game, we all depended on each other, we held each other accountable, just like this team does. And we play hard, we play together, and we’re unselfish. I think that’s all the similarities of all the great teams that you see out there.”
On college basketball and March Madness:
“College basketball, college athletics, the excitement, the enthusiasm, you can’t compare. When you talk about the higher end of athletics, you talk about the Olympics, you talk about national championships at the pro level, that might compare somewhat, but just on pure enthusiasm, you can’t beat college athletics. That’s what kind of sparked me. (Manning’s voice now rises with passion.) To me, it’s coming back and going to the fieldhouse and hearing the chants and hearing the fans and going on the road and seeing all that excitement and emotion that’s generated from the college teams. I really enjoy the college game.”
On his excitement level being a former player:
“I still get excited, I’m still competitive like any other coach. You just have to channel it in different ways.”
On advice he’s given this team about his playing experience:
“We talk to them all the time. For me, it’s just take one game at a time and leave it all on the court. When it’s all said and done, we’re not going to win every game, but as long as you give yourself a chance and you put forth your best effort on that particular day, you can live with yourself.”