HANGTIME SOUTHWEST — On Sunday evening in Dallas, one of the rarest coaching matchups ever in college basketball will take place between Larry Brown and Danny Manning, two men whose relationship traces back decades and generations, and intersects as coach-and-player in the college ranks and in the NBA.
Now as colleagues, Manning, a rookie head coach, brings his Tulsa Golden Hurricane (8-6) to Moody Coliseum to face the legendary Brown in his first season leading the long-irrelevant SMU Mustangs (10-5) in both teams’ Conference USA opener.
“First of all, I dread this game,” Brown said Friday during a teleconference to preview the matchup. “Danny’s been such a big part of my life. Aside from watching him coach and knowing he’s a head coach, and we all take pride in that and know our game is better for that, it’s going to be a special moment for me seeing him on the other bench, seeing him coaching. But I don’t enjoy that opportunity because if we lose, I don’t take loses very well, and if we win, I’m not going to be happy about him being on the losing side.”
The two did very little losing at Kansas nearly a quarter-century ago.
In 1988, Manning, the Jayhawks’ star senior, and Brown, their respected, bespectacled coach, won the national championship. In today’s era, Manning might not have been around to win Most Outstanding Player honors. Instead he’d probably have been grinding through his third or maybe even fourth season in the NBA.
Sunday’s otherwise under-the-radar Tulsa-SMU matchup marks just the second time ever that the coach and MOP of an NCAA title team will face each other as head coaches, according to the hard-digging SMU media relations department. The only other time? Back in 1950 when Howie Dallmar, the 1942 MOP for Stanford, and coach Everett Dean matched wits with Dean still at Stanford and Dallmar at Penn. The pupil won that one 59-58.
In ’88, Manning’s father Ed, whom Brown coached briefly with the ABA Carolina Cougars, was on Brown’s staff. After the Jayhawks won the title, Danny Manning would become the No. 1 draft pick of the Los Angeles Clippers and Brown would take Ed, who died of a heart condition at age 68 in May 2011, with him to his first NBA stop with the San Antonio Spurs.
Five years later, Brown would reunite with Danny Manning as coach of the Clippers.
But what might have been if back then players routinely lasted one year in college as they do today or, before the one-and-done rule, played no college ball at all? Some top players in Manning’s day and before obviously left school after two or three seasons, but it wasn’t the norm. Manning had his chance to go.
“My story at Kansas, there was talk my junior year that potentially there could be some interest for me to look into the NBA,” Manning said Friday on the teleconference. “This is a true story, this is how it went down. My dad comes over to my apartment, he steps one foot in the door and he says, ‘You’re not ready,’ and it was end of discussion. He followed that up by, I think it was a Saturday or Sunday when the season was over, by, ‘Hey, you coming by the house to eat? Mom cooked today.’ And that was the end of my NBA thought-process, so to speak.”
As a junior, Manning averaged 23.9 points and 9.5 rebounds. He shot a remarkable 61.7 percent. As Brown remembers it, Manning would have been the No. 1 pick that season. That pick belonged to the Spurs, who drafted a 7-footer out of the Naval Academy named David Robinson, a player they’d have to wait on to fulfill his service commitment.
“He’s not telling you the whole story on this whole going pro thing,” Brown said. “His dad and mom came in and saw me. I didn’t know what advice to give them. I thought he was going to be the first pick in the draft. I told his dad that. And based on my background with coach [Dean] Smith, if you were a lottery pick he didn’t let you come back to school. But I spoke to Danny and Ed, and Danny told me he promised his mom and his dad that he would graduate and I basically said, ‘Well, you can go in the pros and come back and graduate.’
“And then Danny kind of said, ‘Well, I really would some day like to be the first pick in the draft.’ And I thought, well, based on my knowledge and how good he was, I thought he’d be the first pick in the draft unless other general managers were crazy. And then the third thing he told me was, ‘I want to win a national championship.’ And I said, ‘Well, the other two we can handle, but you’d have to stay another year to do that.’ That’s at least the way I looked at the story. And lo-and-behold, he graduated, he was the first pick in the draft and we won a national championship.
“So, it was a great story. Maybe I made it up.”
Had Manning left, Brown probably wouldn’t own the distinction as the only coach to win an NCAA and NBA championship, which he got with the 2004 Detroit Pistons during his seventh of nine stops over 26 NBA seasons. But Manning stayed, and no coach has yet to match Brown with double crowns.
Manning went on to play 15 seasons in the NBA and averaged double figures in scoring in 10 of them. He’s seen plenty of short-timers come and go in the college game since his NBA retirement. He was an assistant at Kansas for nine seasons before moving up to Tulsa where he follows in the coaching tradition of Tubby Smith, Nolan Richardson and current Kansas coach Bill Self.
As seasoned as any pro in any draft after four years at Kansas, Manning said one reason he lasted so long in the NBA is because of the stream of young talent drafted into the NBA on potential, players that didn’t possess the maturity to stick.
“That’s the era that we’re in now and it’s based upon potential,” Manning said. “I’ve said this and lots of other people have said this many, many times before, all professional leagues, the backbone of those professional leagues are your solid veteran players and there are a lot of young men that come out early and aren’t quite ready for the rigors of professional athletics, but are there because of their potential.
“And I said I was fortunate and blessed enough to play 15 years. But part of the reason I was able to play that long is because the young men that were coming in weren’t ready. They weren’t ready to make a contribution to the team or accept the role that an older veteran will accept, knowing how special and unique it is to be a professional athlete.”