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Friday, August 22, 2003

Woodling

Manning’s KU legacy unequaled

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Those of us growing long in the tooth never will forget the magical spring of 1988 when Danny Manning almost single-handedly led Kansas University to the NCAA basketball championship.

Hard to believe that was almost a generation ago. This year's high school seniors, for instance, were terrible 2-year-olds when "Danny and the Miracles" stunned college basketball.

So with Manning's playing days apparently ended by his decision to join Bill Self's KU staff, this is a good time for a retrospective on a man who set Kansas career records for points, rebounds and minutes that may never be surpassed -- in large part because the great ones rarely stay for four years anymore.

Back in the early 1980s, when Manning was attending Page High in Greensboro, N.C., he was no doubt having dreams of someday wearing Carolina blue. Then, after Manning's junior season, fate threw him a sunflower seed.

Larry Brown had shocked many by leaving the New Jersey Nets to become head coach at KU, and Brown, a North Carolina grad with lingering ties to UNC coach Dean Smith, had heard all about Manning.

But how could Brown possibly interest Manning in coming to Kansas? By hiring his dad as an assistant coach.

Ed Manning, a former teammate of Brown in the old ABA, had been working as a over-the-road trucker when the call came. Did Ed Manning want to drive a truck or be a college assistant coach? A real no-brainer.

And so Danny Manning went halfway across the country with his mom, dad and sister Dawn to spend his senior year at Lawrence High. And what a senior year it was.

Never before or since have LHS officials had to advise fans to come early to find a place to sit. Today it's hard to envision the Lions' gym packed to the gills, but it was during the 1983-84 season.

Manning was unable to lead the Lions to the state title -- they lost a heartbreaker to Kansas City Wyandotte in the 6A championship game -- but the prospect of watching Manning play for the Jayhawks -- big surprise, he had committed to KU -- helped soothe the sorrow.

As a freshman, Manning was part of what would become the best Kansas basketball team of the 20th Century. I'm not talking about the '88 champs. I'm referring to the 1986 team that was zebra-ed out of the NCAA Final Four in Dallas.

Manning was the second-leading scorer on the 1984-85 team behind Ron Kellogg, but he would never be the Jayhawks' second-leading scorer again. Nor would he ever reach triple-digits in assists as he did during that freshman season.

During Manning's junior year in '87, the Jayhawks were basically a one-man team because Brown didn't replace the firepower of the graduated Kellogg, Calvin Thompson and Greg Dreiling. Manning's scoring average skyrocketed from 16.7 to 23.9 points a game, but while his scoring average ballooned, the Jayhawks' record sagged from 35-4 to 25-11.

Little did anyone know the Jayhawks would lose 11 games the next year, too. But they would also capture the NCAA title.

How did they do it? Good coaching (by Brown), good fortune (several high seeds were eliminated early in the tournament) and good ol' Danny Manning (31 points and 18 rebounds against Oklahoma in the title game).

It's difficult for today's youth to imagine just how wonderful a player Manning was because they're programmed to measure a basketball player by his NBA stature. Manning was never the player in the pros he was in college because he suffered three ACL injuries -- the first during his rookie season with the Los Angeles Clippers.

When Manning suffered that first knee injury, Kansas fans were stunned. They were convinced Manning was indestructible. During his four years at Kansas, Manning hadn't missed a single game because of an injury while playing virtually every minute.

How many minutes did Manning play? Let's put it this way. Since the NCAA began keeping track of minutes in the early '70s, only three Jayhawks have topped the 4,000-minute plateau. Third is Jeff Boschee with 4,109 minutes. Second is Kirk Hinrich with 4,187. Manning is way ahead of both with 4,961.

Hinrich played in six fewer games than Manning, but even if Hinrich had played every minute of those six extra games he would still be 534 minutes -- the equivalent of 13-plus games -- behind Manning. That's how indefatigable Danny Manning was.

Off the court, Manning remains a private man, protective and proud of his family, gregarious among his circle of friends, yet maintaining a low profile. He just wants to be the guy who lives down the street, the guy you wave to as you go by.

During his first decade or so in the NBA, Manning always maintained an off-season home here. But during the last few years, he has made Lawrence his permanent home. Construction on his new home is nearing completion.

Danny Manning may not be a native son of Lawrence, but neither were James Naismith or Phog Allen, and few would dispute Manning is just as much a part of KU's basketball heritage as they are.

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