Winston-Salem, N.C. Wake Forest is hoping Danny Manning can turn around its slumping basketball team. No miracles needed.
The former Kansas University standout is taking over the project of rebuilding the Demon Deacons, and he thinks his new team is closer than recent results might indicate.
“We have aspirations of being a championship team,” Manning said Tuesday during his formal on-campus introduction. “We want to cut down nets, and we have to put forth the work. ... I’m willing to roll up my sleeves, and let’s go get it.”
The centerpiece of the Jayhawks’ “Danny and the Miracles” 1988 national title team was hired last week to replace Jeff Bzdelik, who resigned under intense public pressure three weeks ago following four mostly unremarkable seasons.
“We all know about Danny Manning’s career, one of the greatest college basketball players ever,” athletic director Ron Wellman said. “That has nothing to do with the reason we hired him as our basketball coach.”
The Demon Deacons haven’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 2010 and had three straight losing seasons under Bzdelik before finishing 17-16 this year with sophomores making up the core of the team.
“I just believe that the pieces are in place,” Manning said. “You’re talking about this soon-to-be junior class, they’ve kind of gone through their hardships, so to speak, and kind of gotten a taste of what it’s like to play in (the Atlantic Coast Conference). ... I feel, and I believe they feel, they’re ready for a breakout year.”
The 47-year-old Manning was 38-29 with two postseason berths in two seasons at Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane started 1-6 last season but rebounded to win 11 straight games and reach their first NCAA Tournament since 2003.
There’s an element of risk to his hiring because of his limited head coaching experience, but Wellman said ex-Kansas coach Larry Brown told him Manning was more than just a standout player for those Jayhawks teams.
“He was the big-man coach as a player at Kansas,” the AD said. “That tells you something about what his track record and career path was going to be.”
It also doesn’t hurt that Manning brings a mix of national and local name recognition to a program that sank near the bottom of the expanded ACC.
Manning said his Demon Deacons will be driven by their defense and an up-tempo team on offense that works from the inside out.