DANNY MANNING PROFILE: A look at his lifetime spent in basketball

September 25, 2012

By Paul Corliss

If the term ‘basketball lifer’ were to make its way into Webster’s Dictionary, odds are a photo of Danny Manning would accompany the definition.

Manning is the son of a former NBA player and coach. He was the National Player of the Year for a Kansas team he led to the 1988 NCAA Championship. He was the first overall pick in the 1988 NBA draft for the Los Angeles Clippers and – despite having to battle through an unfair share of injuries – lasted 15 seasons in the league, twice playing in the NBA All-Star game. Today, after nine wildly successful seasons as an assistant under Bill Self at Kansas, Manning is entering his first season as head coach at the University of Tulsa.

And yes, Danny Manning is also a proud member of the National Basketball Retired Players Association.

“The (NBRPA)? That’s my group,” Manning said when asked about his involvement with the Legends of Basketball. “For 15 years I was part of (the NBA) fraternity and the connections are always there. I am very proud of my 15-year career. To work through the injuries I did and last that long … I’m very proud.”

Indeed, nothing was easy for Manning in the NBA. During his rookie season of 1988-89, the 6-10 forward averaged 16.7 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 3.1 assists through his first 26 games with the Clippers. Then he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee and had reconstructive surgery on January 14, 1989. Manning rehabbed like a man possessed and came back better than ever, averaging 22.8 points per game in 1992-93 and 23.7 points per game in 1993-94, en route to back-to-back All-Star appearances for Los Angeles. But the injury bug bit again in February of 1995 when Manning, a new member of the Phoenix Suns, tore the anterior cruciate ligament in left knee.

Despite two completely reconstructed knees – and the recurring aches and pains associated with such serious joint injuries in a sport built on quickness, agility and the ability to leap – Manning persevered and played another seven solid NBA seasons. A far less nimble Manning remained a special player throughout the duration of his lengthy career, even winning NBA Sixth Man of the Year as a member of the Phoenix Suns in 1997-98.

Manning maintained a positive attitude and tireless work ethic throughout his injury-riddled career and used any time spent off the court looking for ways to become better once back on it.

“(Being injured) helped me on the court,” Manning said. “While I was injured, I started watching more tape and looking at how I could take advantage from a scouting perspective. As I got older, I developed a different view of the game and learned to anticipate.”

Undoubtedly, the hours spent studying film prepared Manning to join Self at Kansas as an assistant on one of the most accomplished coaching staffs in the history of college basketball. With Manning tutoring KU power forwards and centers from 2007-2012, eight Jayhawk big men were selected in the NBA Draft – Wayne Simien, Julian Wright, Darrell Arthur, Darnell Jackson, Sasha Kaun, Cole Aldrich and twins Marcus and Markieff Morris. The Jayhawks won more than 87 percent of their games with Manning on Self’s staff and brought the 2009 National Championship to Lawrence.

Of course “Danny and the Miracles” captured the hearts of sports fans everywhere 20 years earlier when Player of the Year Manning and Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown led Kansas on an improbable National Championship run in 1988. Like the lessons learned in his NBA playing days, Manning often looks back to his senior season at Kansas and draws from the magical run under Brown.

“For us, we weren’t the most talented team, but we had the best coach and held each other accountable,” said Manning, modestly forgetting to add that the Jayhawks also had the college game’s best player. “I think about (the 1988 season) every day at some point and it always brings a smile to my face. You realize how special it is as each year passes, and as a coach you realize how many things have to go right.”

Today, Manning finds his first opportunity as a head coach because much did not go right for a Tulsa team that struggled to barely finish above .500 at 17-14. But with the university nestled in a Tulsa community that supports its Golden Hurricane like a pro team to go with a history of championship caliber head coaches that includes Self, Tubby Smith and Nolan Richardson, the ever-optimistic Manning expects success early and often.

“Our coaching staff will benefit from the legacy (of basketball success) here as we work to establish a new era in Tulsa basketball,” Manning said. “Tulsa is special a place and you can feel the excitement in the city.”

But for Manning – much as it was in his own career – success won’t only be defined on the court.

“We want to educate our student athletes,” Manning said. “Basketball is what they do, not who they are. Unfortunately in the world of sports, a lot of people don’t have that mentality. Our job is to prepare young men for life. Along the way we will win some games and laugh and cry a lot together.”

It’s all part of the basketball life for Danny Manning. The son of a player and coach, Manning has followed in father Ed Manning’s footsteps to do the same. Like his father and so many of his brothers in the National Basketball Retired Players Association, Danny Manning is a basketball lifer.