Hall of Famer Danny Manning - Part II

Danny Manning (left) and Bill Self (AP Photo)

Danny Manning arrived at Lawrence High School in 1983 for his senior season with great fanfare and compared to Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. High school super scout Howard Garfinkel called Manning the "best swingman since Benny Goodman," while KU coach Larry Brown eventually hailed the 6-10 wunderkind for immortality.

“This kid has the chance to be thought of in light of the best when his career is over,” Brown told Basketball Times.

Danny Manning, though, never got caught up in all the hosannas. Off the court at LHS, the 17-year-old senior was just enjoying being one of the guys and forming great friendships with classmates like teammate Jeff Johnson, Tom Whitenight, and basketball/volleyball standout Amy Lienhard, the daughter of Bill Lienhard, a member of KU’s 1952 NCAA championship team.

Manning was a typical teenager who liked to socialize and have fun. He’d go to movies, parties, and take road trips to Kansas City to watch the LHS football team play. Manning was even named Sweetheart King at the school’s Valentine’s Day dance.

He’s always been known to the public as a shy, introverted person. But to his friends and people who know him well, Manning’s a very fun, popular and engaging person. Just ask Johnson, who bonded closely with Manning and took him under his wing at Lawrence High.

Johnson actually called Manning in the summer of 1983 before he moved to Lawrence to introduce himself and talk about the Lions’ basketball team.

“He’s very humble and initially he’s very soft spoken. Once you get to know him, (he) can’t hardly (stop talking),” Johnson said with a laugh.

One of Johnson’s favorite memories of Manning involved his pre-game routine. Four hours before the game, the team would have a huge meal of pasta, steak and pancakes. Then 90 minutes before game time, Johnson would pick up Manning in his blue cutlass.

The skinny phenom always had one request.

“He’d invariably have me stop at Kwik Shop on 23rd Street,” Johnson said, where Manning would buy “hot dogs, popcorn, doughnuts, all kinds of stuff.”

 “I’d just marvel at how in the word he could run up and down the court eating that stuff. I’d just shake my head thinking, ‘You are going to throw all that stuff up,’ and he never did,” Johnson added with a laugh.

“He was an eater, that’s for sure.”

Manning kept on eating and hooping that magical season. With every win, the expectations and pressures mounted. Lawrence High won 21 straight games following the loss to Wyandotte in the second game of the year and reached the Class 6A State finals at Allen Fieldhouse on March 10, 1984, where they’d meet Wyandotte again for the highest stakes.

Wyandotte was up by one point with four seconds remaining in the game when Manning received the inbounds pass and dribbled furiously up the right side of the floor. With the partisan Lawrence High fans of nearly 7,000 watching and praying with bated breath, Manning let a bomb fly from just inside half court.

The ball bounced harmlessly off the rim as Wyandotte won the state title.

“There were some things I wish I would have done different, a couple of shots I would’ve made,” Manning told the Lawrence High School Budget newspaper at the time.

“But we played our best.”

For Lawrence High, it was a devastating loss. The consummate team player, Johnson felt most sorry for Manning.

“It was really frustrating playing at Allen Fieldhouse where Danny was set to play the next four years,” Johnson said. “We should have won, we were a better team. We really wanted that one. ... One of my first thoughts, ‘Doggone it, you (Manning) move to Lawrence High and we couldn’t get it done for you. (I felt like we) kind of let Danny down. It was really too bad.”

Interestingly, on that same night, KU beat Oklahoma, 79-78, in the Big Eight Tournament championship in Kansas City. The Jayhawks were back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in three years, and with Manning’s arrival at KU in the fall, you could sense greatness to come for KU  basketball.

Despite the loss to Wyandotte, Juneau called the 1984 season very successful. LHS went undefeated in the Sunflower League and won the Topeka Invitational Tournament for the first time since 1967.

Manning finished the season averaging 22.7 points, 9.1 rebounds, 4.2 blocks, 5.0 steals and 2.2 assists per game for the 22-2 Lions. In three years of high school, Manning’s teams at Page High and Lawrence High went an astounding 71-5.

In the two months following LHS’ heartbreaking loss, Manning played in the Capital All-Star Classic in Washington, D.C., and the McDonald’s All-American game, while I played my final season on the Lions’ tennis team and anxiously awaited graduation day and and beginning my college studies at KU.

Finally, on May 23, 1984 at Memorial Stadium, myself, Manning and over 500 of my fellow Lawrence High classmates received their diplomas at commencement.

After the final speech that evening, and after we were officially high school graduates, I turned over my right shoulder and the first person I saw was Daniel Ricardo Manning (at 6-10, he was hard to miss). He stood up from the bleachers and gave the 6-5 Whitenight a high-five, and no doubt reveled with anticipation and wonder at the bright future and endless possibilities ahead.

I certainly didn’t think that May evening— and I doubt Manning did either— that four years later he would be back at Memorial Stadium on April 5, 1988 celebrating with thousands of Jayhawks (including myself) the national championship KU had won the previous night in Kansas City.

He had grown from a skinny, unassuming teenager to a man who led KU to a national tile over Oklahoma in one of the most dominating performances in years (31 points and a career-high 18 rebounds).

Now, 20 years since he made an indelible mark on KU basketball and college hoops history  — after three ACL surgeries, a 15-year NBA career, two All-Star game appearances, a Sixth Man Award, five-plus seasons on KU coach Bill Self’s staff and winning another national title last season as an assistant coach — Manning will be immortalized with his induction into the College Basketball Hall of Fame on Sunday night at the College Basketball Experience/Sprint Center in Kansas City.

Self knows Manning could have been an NBA Hall of Famer if not for his injuries.

“Knee injuries prevented him from probably being a 10-time type All-Star,” Self said. “He scored 15,000 points as a pro and was never healthy. He tore his (first) ACL his first year. He would (have gone) down as one of the best.

“But to me, collegiately, he does go down as one of the best. We think of Bird or (Michael) Jordan or Magic and the greatest players of what they accomplished in the pros, but when you break down what they accomplished in college, Danny’s career is up there with all those guys.”

Brown is certainly a true believer.

“This (induction) is pretty neat,” Brown said. “It’s a pretty special thing. I can’t imagine a college player ever being better than him or accomplishing more than he did. To have it in Kansas City, I think it’s well-deserved. ... If you look at our team (in 1988), you realize how special a player he was because he carried a lot of us. He had a great career with a lot of adversity in the pros. He’s as good a college player as I ever saw and I think he’s going to be as good a college coach as you want. He has all the qualities there.”

“He had a great I.Q. (as a player),” Brown added. “He grew up with his dad, who was a pretty bright basketball  player and the ultimate team guy. He taught Danny early on how to respect the game and how to play the right way. For a guy his size, in a lot of ways he played like a guard. Everybody used to compare him to Magic, which is probably the highest compliment you can have. I think when they were doing that, they were talking about the fact how he made players better, just by doing the little things.”

Manning did all “the little things” and will now receive the greatest honor with his induction into the College Basketball Hall of Fame. Manning said he could get emotional when he gives his speech, but wants to cherish the moment as a “joyous occasion.”

“I’m very thankful,” he said. “A lot of people helped shape and mold me as young man and into my adulthood. I definitely have to give them thanks, and just go from there. ... Hopefully, when the honor does happen, I’ll walk into the Hall of Fame with Kansas across my chest because that’s the jersey I played in and those are the teammates that put me there.”

Manning could do it no other way.

I followed his growth every step of the way during his memorable career. From those Friday nights sitting in the packed Lawrence High gym my senior year in 1983-84, to cheering in the student section at Allen Fieldhouse for four years, to 15 years of rooting for him in the NBA, it was a pure joy to watch Manning play the game.

(“He’s) one of the most graceful players of our era,” Hall of Famer and basketball analyst Bill Walton once said.

Danny, thanks for the memories.

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