NCAA Tournament

Danny Manning, KU’s big man on campus, shapes the forwards

Updated: 2012-03-15T03:38:55Z


The Kansas City Star

— Go ahead, Bill Self challenged. Look it up.

Nearly every center and power forward who was at least a part-time starter under Self at Kansas has been drafted by an NBA team.

Self ran down the list: Wayne Simien … Julian Wright … Darnell Jackson … Sasha Kaun … Darrell Arthur … Cole Aldrich … Marcus Morris … Markieff Morris.

And soon to join the list will be Thomas Robinson. And later, Jeff Withey.

The exceptions: Christian Moody, a walk-on, and David Padgett, who went on to a successful career at Louisville.

“We’ve taken great pride in developing big guys,” Self said. “And Danny plays a huge role in that.”

That’s Danny Manning, who if he had never set foot back on campus after finishing his KU career in 1988 would merely be a hero after leading the Jayhawks to a national championship.

But since joining Self’s staff in 2003 in a part-time role before becoming a full-time assistant in 2007, Manning has given back to his alma mater in a most productive way. He tutors and helps shape KU’s big men into some of the game’s most impactful players.

Robinson is Kansas’ second straight Big 12 player of the year. He follows Marcus Morris, who followed Aldrich, an all-conference selection, and so on.

Prospects often come to Kansas highly regarded, but after working with Manning they take the next step.

“Working with coach Manning, I’ve improved so much,” Withey said.

Post moves, footwork, concentration, angles. Manning works with the bigs on their total game.

Before this season, Robinson averaged 5.1 points in two seasons off the bench. He takes averages of 17.9 points and 11.8 rebounds into Friday’s NCAA Tournament opener against Detroit in Omaha, Neb.

Robinson tends to speak softly, almost mumble, when talking about himself. When the subject turns to Manning, he makes sure he’s heard.

Manning, it turns out, accelerated Robinson’s growth by slowing his approach.

“Just slowing me down, and being patient with my moves,” Robinson said. “It’s not about speed, but getting the move right and making sure it works. Everything slowed down for me. With that came better footwork.”

Ah, footwork. That’s where it starts for Manning.

“It’s something we stress each and every day,” Manning said. “Your feet put you in a position to score. So we spend time on footwork, spend time on hand-eye coordination, and we do different drills to create better awareness of what’s going around you.”

Manning was asked what drills improve awareness. It’s all of them, at the same time.

A post player will be working on his move from the right side, another from the left side and a player will have to negotiate his way through the confusion and concentrate on his task.

“When I first got here, I was running into people,” Withey said. “Now, you see the benefits of it.”

One player, one ball is easy, Manning said, but it doesn’t simulate a game.

“There are nine guys out there around him. Where are they?” Manning said.

Withey averaged 2.0 points in 41 games over two seasons. This year he’s averaging 9.3 points, 6.2 rebounds and leads the Big 12 in blocked shots.

All of this works because Kansas intends it to. The Jayhawks emphasize the high-low game. In half-court sets, the post gets fed. If the shot isn’t there, the ball goes back out.

Big guys develop a series of moves, one of each shoulder, and counter moves. Withey has added a sweeping hook to his repertoire, which he shoots with either hand.

As a college player, Manning was more of a 6-foot-10 do-everything player for the Jayhawks than a pure post. He left Kansas not only with a crown but also national player-of-the-year awards and school records for points and rebounds.

He averaged more than three assists in six of his 15 NBA seasons, and playing for seven franchises, Manning had plenty of coaches to study. But some of the drills Kansas employs come from Manning’s days at Kansas under Larry Brown. Self was a graduate assistant during one of those seasons.

And no matter who has coached Kansas the last three decades, big men have always been emphasized. Under Roy Williams, Mark Randall, Greg Ostertag, Scot Pollard, Raef LaFrentz, Eric Chenowith, Drew Gooden and Nick Collison were drafted.

Historically, big men have played prominent roles in Kansas’ hoop history: Clyde Lovellette led the way to the 1952 NCAA title; a few years later, Wilt Chamberlain became the program’s greatest talent.

Self’s teams have continued the bigness.

“Our big guys touch the basketball, and that’s something coach Self has done since I can remember,” Manning said. “It’s evolved, but the basis always comes back to the anchor in the middle. All good teams have someone in the middle to anchor it, whether it’s offensively or defensively.”

Self believes that makes Kansas unique.

“There aren’t a ton of teams in the country right now that play inside-out,” Self said. “Maybe that’s because there aren’t as many big guys to go around.

“And when we play our worst, it’s when we don’t play inside-out.”

Give Manning the credit, Self said. But is the Kansas hero ready to add CEO duties to teaching and assume a program of his own?

“You always aspire to get better and improve,” Manning said. “You soak up as much as much as you can, and when it happens, it happens.”

To reach Blair Kerkhoff, call 816-234-4730 or send email to Follow him at

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