Published November 08, 2012
TULSA, Okla. – When it comes to basketball, Danny Manning has done it all.
As a player, he experienced the best there is as an NCAA champion at Kansas and an NBA All-Star with the Los Angeles Clippers. He understands the worst there is, with three serious knee injuries that forced him to find ways to stay competitive without the same athleticism and sparked an interest in coaching.
Back at his alma mater, he started off in operations and steadily moved up the food chain until he was an assistant coach on another team that cut down the nets.
And now, he's ready to begin another endeavor — his first chance to be a head coach.
Hired this April by a middling Tulsa program hungry to return to the NCAA tournament, Manning makes his debut Sunday when the Golden Hurricane host LSU-Shreveport. It's another big step in a steady decade-long progression for Manning.
"I thought it was very important for me to know how everything worked from the ground up, and there's no better way of knowing what happens on the ground level than being there and working it, and working my way up," Manning said.
"I think it's something that benefits me each and every day."
Manning, 46, has spent the past seven months molding a team that was largely shapeless when he took over.
Three players, including leading scorer Jordan Clarkson, transferred out of the program after predecessor Doug Wojcik was fired following six straight winning seasons but no NCAA tournament appearances.
Three others graduated and starting forward Kodi Maduka gave up the sport for medical reasons after he collapsed during a pickup game the same day Manning was hired in April.
That put Manning in a position to bring in seven newcomers to mix with the three players left on the roster with college experience — starting guard Scottie Haralson, part-time starter Tim Peete and reserve Rashad Smith.
"It's new to everybody," Manning said. "Your seniors don't know any more than the freshmen, and so you don't have anybody teaching and showing guys how to do things because nobody knows. That's been the roughest part."
With so much change, Manning was thankful he was able to get a head start because of a new NCAA rule allowing coaches 2 hours of workouts per week with their players and a foreign exhibition tour to Canada.
Still, there's plenty of work to do to instill his own unique brand of basketball at Tulsa.
"I'm not smart enough to say that I invented anything or came up with anything. We all borrow as coaches, we all borrow as players and we tweak and we work it to the best of our ability with the team that we have," Manning said.
"I would like to think that you see our team and you say, 'These guys come out here and they work hard.' That's what I want you to say when you see them on the court. I think when you see them off the floor, we want you to see how good of young men they are."
Manning has instituted an aggressive, pressing defense and during exhibition play deployed all the youthful players on his bench to keep it going. In the second preseason game, the Golden Hurricane amassed 113 points — their most in exhibition play since 1993.
"We want to be a team that establishes tempo, that create tempo, and we want to be in attack mode," Manning said.
"We want to have the reputation of when somebody sees Tulsa coming in the gym and just goes, 'Oh boy, here they come,'" he added. "And not because they're so much more talented than you. It's because they're going to play hard the whole game."
Manning's head coaching debut comes 10 years after his final NBA season with the Dallas Mavericks. But it was another life-changing event that propelled him to Tulsa.
"The one thing that really opened my eyes, for me, was when my father passed away a couple years ago, not wanting to put my aspirations on hold thinking that tomorrow is promised and it's not," Manning said.
"At that point, it was one of those situations for me, if I want to get past this hurdle in terms of being a head coach and running my own program and make it happen as soon as possible."
After his father, Ed, passed away in March 2011, Manning worked with his boss, Bill Self, and other assistants on the Kansas staff with head coaching experience to build a portfolio and what he called a "blueprint to a championship program." It was all ready when Tulsa athletic director Ross Parmley pursued him during last season's NCAA tournament.
It includes a life skills component intended to prepare his players to be husbands, fathers, friends and providers for their families after basketball.
Ex-Tulsa star Shea Seals is in charge of the program, including etiquette and financial planning sessions and visits from former players, policemen and military representatives.
"There's so many talented athletes that are so immersed in what they're doing at that present time that their sport becomes who they are, and it's not who they are, it's what you do," Manning said.
"Who you are goes back to the characteristics that you have as a person, and that's what we want to stress."
Although basketball has provided Manning careers as a player and a coach, he understands that not every college player will follow that path — and he hopes to connect with them all.
"I'm very comfortable when I recruit a young man that I've been on a team where I've been called upon to score points or be a star, I've been a starter, I've been a sixth man, I've been a role guy, I've been a rotation guy, I've been on the injured list. I haven't played," he said. "There's not a role that I can't relate to that a player has on our team."