TULSA — Danny Manning walks with a slight hitch. The human body wasn't designed to stand nearly 7-feet tall anyway. Then go cutting on the knees time after time, and it takes a toll on the stroll.
Yet Manning is thankful for the injuries that led to three knee surgeries and might have kept him from becoming one of basketball's greatest players. All those injuries forced Manning to study his sport. A fundamentally sound player to begin with, Manning became a basketball scholar. He came to deeply understand the game he played so well.
“The longer I played, I looked at the game differently,” Manning said the other day from his University of Tulsa office. When you're 6-foot-10 and skilled like a guard, basketball comes easy. But after Manning had two catastrophic knee injuries, he began to embrace concepts like technique and details.
“What can I do to create an advantage for myself?” Manning asked. “I studied my opponent, trying to gain an advantage through anticipation. Might give you a step in that direction before it happens.”
He played 15 NBA seasons, plus those four glorious years at Kansas in the 1980s. That's 19 years of top-shelf basketball. “The older you get, the slower you get,” Manning said. “I studied the game.”
Which explains why Manning is in Tulsa as head coach of a once-proud TU program that wants to get back in the March Madness business.
Manning, a college basketball giant at Kansas in stature and in deed, nears the end of his first season at Tulsa. His 16-14 Golden Hurricane, an overachiever by any measurement, plays East Carolina at 9:30 p.m. Thursday in the first round of the Conference USA Tournament at Tulsa's BOK Center.
“We have high aspirations,” said TU President Steadman Upham. “We're hungry to get back … to the (NCAA) tournament.”
In the 22 seasons from 1982 through 2003, Tulsa made 13 NCAA Tournaments, won 11 NCAA games and thrice reached the Sweet 16. Tulsa was Gonzaga before Gonzaga was Gonzaga. But the Hurricane hasn't been back in a decade.
And so last spring, Tulsa fired seven-year coach Doug Wojcik and handed its program to Manning, who was that rare NBA player — a star who not only wanted to coach, but was willing to make the necessary sacrifices.
Manning retired in 2003 from 15 NBA seasons, then took a job on Bill Self's first Kansas staff, as director of student-athlete development and team manager. Four years later, Self promoted Manning to assistant coach.
“Being on the staff for nine years gave me a chance to see everything,” Manning said. “I started out at the bottom. That's where I needed to start.”
A TOUGH BUT OPTIMISTIC BEGINNING
Manning inherited a depleted Tulsa roster. All-Conference USA guard Jordan Clarkson transferred to Missouri and point guard Eric McClellan transferred to Vanderbilt. In August, center Kodi Maduka was diagnosed with a heart ailment that ended his career.
Then Rashad Smith, who averaged 14.5 points the first four games of this season, suffered a foot injury and hasn't played since. Key players Pat Swilling Jr. (seven games) and D'Andre Wright (nine games) have been sidelined, too.
Yet Manning nurtured the Hurricane to an 8-8 record in Conference USA. Optimism seems to have returned to a campus that once prized its place in the hoops hierarchy.
“He's going to be very special for us,” Upham said of Manning. “He's had a tough beginning with personnel. But he has managed to keep the guys together.
“Historically, we've been very strong in basketball. What people refer to as the glory years were so special for people here in town. We had a string of exceptional coaches.
“We're a small university, only have 4,200 students. When we have real success, it galvanizes the entire university community.”
Attendance at TU's Reynolds has dipped over the years, a primary reason why Wojcik was fired despite six straight winning seasons.
Conference USA Tournament schedule
All games at the BOK Center in Tulsa:
4:30 p.m.: No. 7 Alabama-Birmingham vs. No. 10 SMU
7 p.m.: No. 6 Houston vs. No. 11 Rice
9:30 p.m. No. 8 Marshall vs. No. 9 Tulane
1 p.m.: No. 2 Southern Miss vs. UAB-SMU winner
3:30 p.m.: No. 3 Texas-El Paso vs. Houston-Rice winner
7 p.m.: No. 1 Memphis vs. Marshall-Tulane winner
9:30 p.m.: No. 4 East Carolina vs. No. 5 Tulsa
4 p.m.: Semifinal I
6:30 p.m.: Semifinal II
11:30 a.m.: Championship Game
NBA to campus
Current head coaches in college basketball who played in the NBA, listed in order of NBA longevity:
Coach, current school;NBA seasons;Alma mater;
Danny Manning, Tulsa;15;Kansas;
Kevin Ollie, Connecticut;13;Connecticut;
Corliss Williams, Central Arkansas;12;Arkansas;
Fred Hoiberg, Iowa State;10;Iowa State;
Larry Krystkowiak, Utah;9;Montana;
Johnny Dawkins, Stanford;9;Duke;
Louis Orr, Bowling Green;8;Syracuse;
Rex Walters, San Francisco;7;Kansas;
Jim Les, Cal-Davis;7;Bradley;
Bryce Drew, Valparaiso;6;Valparaiso;
Lorenzo Romar, Washington;5;Washington;
Larry Brown, SMU;5*;North Carolina;
Steve Alford, New Mexico;4;Indiana;
Brooks Thompson, Texas-San Antonio;4;Oklahoma State;
Tony Bennett, Virginia;3;Wisconsin-Green Bay;
Cuonzo Martin, Tennessee;2;Purdue;
Billy Donovan, Florida;1;Providence;
Jeff Lebo, East Carolina;1;North Carolina;
A list of Tulsa basketball coaches since 1980:
Coach, years;Record;NCAA appearances;NCAA record;
Danny Manning, 2012-;16-14;
Doug Wojcik, 2005-12;140-92;0;0-0;
Pooh Williamson, 2005;7-15;0;0;
John Phillips, 2001-05;61-42;2;2-2
Buzz Peterson, 2000-01;26-11;0;0;
Bill Self, 1997-00;74-27;2;4-2
Steve Robinson, 1995-97;46-18;2;1-2;
Tubby Smith, 1991-95;79-43;2;4-2;
J.D. Barnett, 1985-91;106-75;2;0-2;
Nolan Richardson, 1980-85;119-37;3;0-3;