One would imagine a 15-year NBA veteran and former No. 1 overall pick might have some trouble relating to the various personality types that populate a college basketball team. In many cases, that would be correct. Star players don’t have much in common with deep reserves or walk-ons. They might also struggle to connect with a player who has a gaping hole in his game.
Not Danny Manning. During his time in the NBA, he filled just about every job a player could. He was the star. The regular. The sub. The cheerleader. The veteran counselor. At the end of his career, he had to compensate for dwindling skills. Further, when he started college coaching, he began at the bottom, serving the full-time coaches by doing what he characterizes as “the grunt work” and never once complaining.
So, when a member of Manning’s Tulsa squad has a problem, he should know the coach likely has some experience he can draw on to help out.
“I understand the starter, the reserve and the bench player,” Manning says. “I’ve scored points, been a facilitator, been on the active list and not played at all. I’ve been the Sixth Man of the Year in the NBA  and the ninth and 10th man on teams. My experience runs to just about every role on the basketball court.”
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Manning spent nine seasons assisting Bill Self at Kansas — the school he lifted to the national title in 1988 as part of “Danny and the Miracles” with then-coach Larry Brown — beginning as director of player development and team manager before moving on to become a full-time aide. In a way, he was joining the family business, since his father, Ed, coached at Kansas under Brown and in the NBA for many years. But he was never in charge of a program, like Manning is. It was Ed’s death, in 2011, that convinced Manning he needed to work harder to become a head coach. When the Tulsa job became open, Manning was definitely interested.
“The biggest thing that opened my eyes in terms of putting a timeline on getting a head coaching job was when my father died,” Manning says. “I started to re-evaluate things.”
Many were surprised Manning got the job because few even knew he was a collegiate assistant. Even Manning admits “there was no idea I thought I’d get a job at this level.” Tulsa may not have strong name recognition, but the Golden Hurricane has employed three eventual national championship coaches (Self, Tubby Smith and Nolan Richardson). Manning’s challenge now is to take his vast playing experience, blend it with what he learned at Kansas and make Tulsa a Conference USA contender. His first impressions have been good.
“He’s a laid back guy, but on the court, he’s a different person,” Tulsa senior Scottie Haralson says. “He’s going to get after you and maximize your potential. He knows the game. There’s no question about that.”
Now, it’s time for Manning to transfer that knowledge to his players and show them how to work together and sacrifice for the good of the team.
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“The way I was taught the game was to do whatever I could to make the game easier for my teammates,” Manning says. “Whenever that compliment was bestowed on me, I felt it was the greatest compliment I could get from a teammate.”
If he wants compliments now, Manning will have to win games. Given his experience, he should know how to do that.
-By Michael Bradley