Danny Working Miracles In Kansas

By Tom Keegan
Updated: November 8, 2007

LAWRENCE, Kn. — Don’t study Danny Manning’s personality, which can be on the introverted side, to determine whether he will impact recruiting in a positive way for his alma mater. Study the way the big men improve under his tutelage.

So far, so impressive. Sophomore Darrell Arthur, senior Darnell Jackson and freshman Cole Aldrich all look better each time they take the floor. Manning works with them daily, and it shows.

In his old role, Manning was restricted from coaching on the floor and was in effect an artist without a brush.

Bill Self promoted Manning to replace Tim Jankovich, in his first year as head coach at Illinois State. Even if Manning never becomes as adept as Jankovich at selling high school basketball superstars on coming to Kansas, his presence gives Self one more thing to sell about Kansas. He can tell players they will work every day with one of the best big men in college basketball history.

“I think Tim’s a great coach, but he never played the position,” Self said of Jankovich. “I never played the position.”

Manning blended the attributes of a center, a power forward, a small forward, even a point guard, but he was a big man first.

“Danny was obviously a fabulous player,” Self said. “But one thing about most NBA players or ex-great players, the game came so easy to them that sometimes it seems like it was harder for them to be able to translate how to play the game because the people they’re teaching couldn’t do it the way they did.”

“Danny was not a high flyer. He was a technique guy. He was one of those guys who was a great athlete, certainly, but through three ACLs (knee surgeries), he lost some bounce and some quickness. He had to learn shortcuts. He had to really understand how to play.”

Manning will help Arthur, so explosive and so fast, become a more efficient player by improving his footwork. Aldrich, who has displayed such a soft touch off the glass in the two exhibition victories, gets better by getting slammed around every day by Sasha Kaun, Jackson, and Arthur. They all have a strength advantage on him. They’ll make him tougher. Manning will make him smarter.

The big men all shared at least one trait that was enjoyable to watch in Tuesday night’s mismatch, a 93-56 Kansas victory against Fort Hays State, a game that in general didn’t captivate the crowd. The big men all had triggering the fast break on the brain, seemingly trying to fire outlet passes before they landed.

The other end of successful fast breaks, the end where the ball is dunked, is what excites crowds. That wasn’t always the case. Dunking wasn’t allowed when Bill Walton played for UCLA. Many of his highlights shown now are of him soaring for rebounds, turning his head up court while in the air and firing the outlet pass, one of basketball’s prettiest plays.

KU clearly is determined to play faster, and having such fleet big men in Arthur, Jackson and Kaun, will make it work going in both directions.

“We try to get it out so we can get it down the court,” Arthur said. “We’re trying to play faster this year than we did last year.”

Cranking up the tempo will be one of the many areas where Manning’s fingerprints can be found on the scene.