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.
The Hurricane has averaged 4,580 fans a game at the 8,355-seat Reynolds Center this season.
“We have to do our part,” Manning said. “Win some games, play some games that pique people's interest.”
Manning seems undeterred. He says Self “highly-recommended” the job. Self himself coached TU to two NCAA Tournaments, including getting the ‘Cane within five points of the 2000 Final Four.
“Great job,” Manning said. “Great job. Great tradition. Rich history. One of the best private schools in the country. I thought it was a really, really great opportunity.”
Manning could have jumped into head coaching earlier. He's a college legend, in the title role of Danny and the Miracles that won the 1988 NCAA championship. Manning has the NBA pedigree, the Kansas stamp of approval.
But Manning was willing to wait.
‘AN IMPRESSIVE WAY TO APPROACH THE GAME'
In Manning‘s final five NBA seasons, he played for five franchises: Phoenix, Milwaukee, Utah, Dallas and Detroit. His son, Evan, was in the fourth grade and never had gone to the same school more than one year.
“Retiring gave our family more stability,” Manning said. “I wanted to make sure my son got through high school (in the same place). That was very important to us.”
So the Mannings relocated back to Lawrence, and Danny spent nine years on Self's staff. Now Manning's daughter, Taylor, is a KU volleyball player and Evan is a freshman walk-on for Self.
Manning always has come across as a low-profile guy. He wasn't a flamboyant player at KU, wasn't a flamboyant personality in the pros, isn't a flamboyant coach now that he's back on campus.
Some mistook that for a lack of ambition. “He's extremely ambitious,” said Barry Hinson, who spent four years on the KU staff with Manning and now is head coach at Southern Illinois. “He wanted to be a head coach. But he waited for the right fit, the right job, and I think he got it.
“The most important thing I noticed about Danny and his family were how grounded they really were. If Danny was not a recognizable figure, and it's hard not to be at his height, you would never know of his success professionally or financially. But what you would know is he's a very soft-spoken and a very, very caring person.”
Manning says he has wanted to coach since those injuries forced him to delve deeper into the game. Of course, it didn't hurt that his father, Ed, was a coach, or that Danny at KU played for Larry Brown, one of the greatest coaches in the history of the game.
“He made me a better person, he made a better basketball player,” Manning said of Brown. “His impact has affected me each and every day. The things that he stressed, the things he talked about. Unselfishness on the court and off the court.”
It's quite a rèsumè. The Miracles. The 15-year NBA career that included two all-star games. Playing for Brown. Working for Self.
But it wasn't the rèsumè that convinced Tulsa that Manning was its man.
“As we got to know Danny in the process,” President Upham said, “one of the things he said that was most remarkable was the most important time he spent in the NBA was recuperating from injury.
“Every injury takes a little bit from you. You have to compensate. Can't jump as high. Can't cut as fast. Consequently, you've got to think.
“Then spending nine years at Kansas, progressive levels of responsibility. He started at the bottom and worked himself up. It's a very impressive way to approach the game.”
It's the way a lot of coaches have approached basketball. But few of them ever stood as tall as Danny Manning.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.
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;