This entry was originally posted to the site late last night. It has received so much positive attention that we wanted to bring it to the front of the blog this afternoon. Lastly, our message forums (linked here) are always a great place to find dozens of timely NC State related topics.
As if Wolfpack Nation is not fired up enough about the opportunity to go bird hunting in the Sweet 16 tonight, there will be an assistant coach sitting on the Kansas bench who carries with him an interesting story, and perhaps an even more interesting secret, that helped change the history of Wolfpack Basketball. If you’re like us, you’ve been soaking up everything you can all week long. If a fact exists, you’ve heard, read, or told it many times over. Very few people, however, have heard about this story and the curious connection it creates between NC State and Kansas.
To help set the scene, it’s important to remind you that Dean Smith grew up in Kansas. Dean attended the University of Kansas and played ball for the legendary Jayhawk coach Phog Allen. He also subsequently served as an assistant on Allen’s staff. UNC-CH coach Frank McGuire hired Smith as an assistant at UNC. From there Dean began to develop what is now often referred to as “The Carolina Basketball Family.” And as we all have heard ad nauseum, “Once a Tar Heel, Always a Tar Heel.” [http://reesenews.org/files/2012/03/Family.pdf] Part of Dean Smith’s “family” at UNC were two of his players-turned-coaches, Larry Brown and Roy Williams, who both would eventually eventually roam the sidelines as head coach of Dean’s alma mater. In case you haven’t had your coffee today, this isn’t just a coincidence.
In the mid 80′s, NC State sat proudly atop the ACC Basketball mountain with a program that should cower to none. We regularly thumped both Duke and UNC-CH. ESPN was in its infancy and the concept of a “Battle of the Blues” would have brought a chuckle to anyone on Tobacco Road. It was State versus Carolina, and more often than not we were the fans left standing with bragging rights. Jim Valvano had us squarely in the national spotlight and at the top of the best college basketball conference in the country.
And then along comes Danny Manning, a stud forward from Greensboro Page High School. The year was 1985. Â Manning was widely heralded as the best high school recruit in the country. He was a program changer, and that was no secret. Danny Manning led Page to the North Carolina High School State Basketball Championship at the Greensboro Coliseum in March of 1983. The young Manning was apparently smitten with Jim Valvano and his Wolfpack’s miracle run and national championship just weeks later.
Fittingly, Jim Valvano squared off against Dean Smith in a hotly contested recruiting battle for Manning. The two hottest college coaches in the country were all over Manning. The effort by Valvano and his staff to stay on Manning was allegedly relentless. The article linked here is simply a picture of an old newspaper story by Chuck Woodling. We are unable to cut and paste exerts, but you absolutely MUST read this to fully grasp the aura around Manning’s recruitment and the absolutely crazy story that followed.
Just days before Manning was set to make his decision between UNC and NCSU, Manning’s father was hired by then University of Kansas head coach Larry Brown as Â an assistant basketball coach at KU. Â Instantaneously the hopes of college basketball coaches, players and fans were dashed across this great state. Just like that, the younger Manning and his family were shipped off to Lawrence. Â
Manning left Greensboro Page High to play his senior year at Lawrence High School. The most coveted high school basketball player in the country no longer called North Carolina home. In an instant UNC and NC State were out of the Danny Manning lottery. It was at the time and still remains understandable that Manning chose to play basketball for his father and to stay close to his family in Kansas. You certainly cannot blame a kid for that.
The curious thing about the hire of Ed Manning is that while he was a Jacksonville State basketball star and subsequently an ABA and NBA journeyman, he had very little coaching experience prior to being hired by Brown. In fact, at the time of his hire at Kansas, he was not in basketball at all. The elder Manning had been driving an 18-wheel truck in the Greensboro area and thus had been out of the game of basketball completely for several years.
Alas, the remarkable Larry Brown found this truck driver deemed diamond in the rough coaching prospect from 1,035.72 miles away. Keep in mind this all took place before the internet and cell phone revolution. You actually had to work pretty damned hard to catch up with someone back then, especially a long-haul trucker. To be fair it’s important to know that Ed Manning played for Larry Brown for two seasons while Brown was coaching the Carolina Cougars of the ABA. However, that was many years removed. Further, Mr. Manning’s only previous coaching experience before Larry Brown had to have him on his Jayhawk staff was a brief, one or two year, stint at North Carolina A&T. Also a bit of a head scratcher is that the Assistant Coach job description at KU required a college degree. Prior to Manning’s hire by Brown, the job description was purportedly rewritten for Manning because he was a few credits shy of a Jackson State degree.
Needless to say, this story was the talk of the town(s) on Tobacco Road. Many national news outlets covered the hire and the subsequent buzz it created. It was also the hot topic in the Lawrence, Kansas newspaper. This article is a must read because it also discusses a later NC State/Kansas game in the Greensboro Coliseum and approaches the story about the reception Danny Manning was likely to get upon his return to NC. This article of the microfiche-sort will absolutely take you back if you’re a seasoned Wolfpacker. Other than reminiscing in some of the Pack’s gloriest of years, this piece lays out the entire recruiting battle between Dean and V. It states via Wake Forest’s coach at the time, what all Pack fans knew to be true. If a team didn’t land Danny Manning, they damn sure didn’t want to play against him two or more times every year. And once it was evident that Danny Manning would not be playing in the ACC, all the coaches in the conference gave a sigh of relief… except one. The question becomes: Which one? Please read this article from the Lawrence
From the vaults of yesteryear, Sports Illustrated also addressed the curious recruitment of Danny Manning. You can access the article ; however, the most important parts of the story are blocked below.
Here’s why: On Sept. 22 a very tall high school senior, Danny Manningâ€”late of Greensboroâ€” told a press conference in Lawrence, Kans. that he would be taking his considerable basketball talents to the University of Kansas next fall. “If I was still living back East I probably would be going to North Carolina,” he admitted, “but my home is here in Lawrence now, and I want to be close to my parents.”
That raised howls on Tobacco Road, because two days earlier Kansas had announced the hiring Â Â Â of Danny’s father, Ed Manning, who for the past three years had driven a truck for a living, as one of Brown’s assistant coaches. Was it a package deal? “No,” says Brown, “but I know people won’t read it that way.”
Not in North Carolina, anyway. Mac Morris, Danny’s coach at Greensboro’s Page High, has been the most outspoken in charging that the older Manning was “used” to obtain his son’s services. “I don’t like how it was handled,” Morris said last week. “Page 10 of the NCAA’s A Guide for theÂ College-Bound Student-Athlete reads, ‘In recruiting a prospective student-athlete, it is not permissible to give, offer or be involved, directly or indirectly in employment of the relatives of a prospect.’ ”
When Dean Smith, basketball coach at the University of North Carolina, left for a basketball clinic in Spain in September, the word was that Carolina had an inside track on Danny. Says Smith, a Kansas alumnus and Brown’s college coach in the early 1960s, “I came back from Europe and [Assistant Coach] Bill Guthridge asked me, ‘You’ll never guess who Larry hired?’ “And he never would have, Smith says. “It was a surprise to me.”
Dean Smith, it appears, was not overly angered by the move of his former apprentice. In fact, Sports Illustrated Â put Dean’s reaction in these words:
Was the hiring ethical? Schools have been punished for offering employment in other roles to relatives of a recruit, but the NCAA has long accepted the argument that a qualified coach may be hired even if he has a relationshipâ€”family or otherwiseâ€”to a star athlete.
Smith, who gave Brown his first coaching job, is not crying foul, however. “I’m sure Danny was somewhere in Larry’s mind, too,” Smith says, “but he does have a good loyal coach in Ed Manning.” Loyalty, Smith says, is important. “That’s why I hired Larry as an assistant back in 1965.”
As rumblings of shady dealings grew louder, Dean Smith and Larry Brown attempted to quash any idea that Dean had a hand in getting Danny Manning away from Jim Valvano and NC State. The story given and for the most part accepted by the media was that Dean was in Europe (plausible deniability!) and Larry was just trying to hire himself an assistant coach. That’s sort of garbage.
It was common knowledge that Larry Brown would never recruit a player in Dean’s backyard that Dean was pursuing. The teacher and student would recruit the same player in a third state, but neitehr would mess with the other’s homegrown talent. Brown respected his former coach and mentor too much to breach that gentleman’s agreement, and their relationship thrives still today. Yet all of sudden, when the program changing player of the decade was being hotly recruited by both Dean and Dean’s arch-rival the young and vivacious Jim Valvano, Brown swooped in and offered Danny Manning’s father a job. Just days later Danny Manning committed to play college basketball at the University of Kansas.
Sports Illustrated just a few years ago delved into the world of recruiting junk mail which interestingly shed further light on Manning’s recruitment. In discussing the mass of mail he received while being recruited, Manning explained to SIÂ that Larry Brown won him over with a story.
Manning’s favorite is a 140-word fable from Kansas coach Larry Brown entitled The Bear and the Two Travelers, which teaches a lesson in trust. Manning says this is Brown’s way of saying “that he’d stick by me through thick and thin.” Which is one reason, Manning says, he signed with Kansas. Another reason: A year ago, Brown hired Danny’s father, Ed Manning, as an assistant coach, and the Manning family moved from Greensboro to Lawrence, Kans.
The story of the two travelers and the bear is actually one of Aesop’s fables and goes something like this:
Two men were traveling together, when a Bear suddenly met them on their path. One of them climbed up quickly into a tree and concealed himself in the branches. The other, seeing that he must be attacked, fell flat on the ground, and when the Bear came up and felt him with his snout, and smelt him all over, he held his breath, and feigned the appearance of death as much as he could. The Bear soon left him, for it is said he will not touch a dead body. When he was quite gone, the other Traveler descended from the tree, and jocularly inquired of his friend what it was the Bear had whispered in his ear. “He gave me this advice,” his companion replied.Â “Never travel with a friend who deserts you at the approach of danger.”
So that’s the story. That fable is supposedly what won over Danny Manning to go to Kansas. It had nothing to do with his father being a coach there. In truth, the story is actually about how Dean Smith climbed a tree when he sensed the danger inherent in Valvano (the bear) beating him in a recruiting battle for a kid who would likely have single-handedly stomped Dean’s Tar Heels silly for four years.
Almost immediately after the Manning family up and left for Kansas, there was hot debate in the state of North Carolina about what happened. The national media seemed to cling to the statements of Manning that the hire of his father had nothing to do with him choosing Kansas over UNC-CH or NC State. And of course Brown was adamant the hire wasn’t to lure Manning to Kansas.
Manning’s high school coach at Page thought otherwise. And many Wolfpack faithful thought otherwise as well. Â Many Pack fans believed that indeed Jim Valvano had won over Manning and that Raleigh would be the ultimate destination for the teenage basketball phenom. In fact, Â Manning was so fantastically and freakishly extraordinary at the game of basketball that it is believed Dean Smith would have done anything whatsoever to not have Danny at his Tobacco Road arch rival. Rumor has it that Dean employed the “if I can’t have him, nobody will have him” logic, called up his old protege Larry Brown the newly hired Kansas Jayhawks coach, and single handedly set the wheels in motion that would change the course of three basketball programs forever.
The Danny Manning class also included Chris Washburn. We all know how that turned out. Charles Shackelford signed a year after Washburn and that duo was the beginning of the end for Valvano. To the contrary, Danny Manning went on to lead Larry Brown’s Kansas Jayhawks to two Final Fours and an improbable national championship. Manning’s performance on the way to Kansas’ national championship is described by some to be one of the greatest efforts by an individual in tournament history.
Danny Manning is now an assistant coach at the University of Kansas himself, and is widely accepted as one of the best “big man” coaches in the country. Interestingly enough, when it was apparent that the Sidney Lowe experiment was coming to an end some outlets submitted Manning’s name as a possible replacement. Others believe Manning might be the heir apparent to Bill Self at Kansas, but there’s concern that Danny has never himself been a head coach. As a result, the discussion arose that Manning might be better served coaching elsewhere before returning to Lawrence to take over for Self. In discussing the possibility that Danny Manning might have been a possible replacement for Lowe, one notable Kansas blog had this to say:
Does Manning consider this job attractive? Manning famously rebuffed offers from both UNCÂ and NC State to come play for Larry Brown. Most assume UNC was his second choice but Manning has said on occasion that Jim Valvanoâ€™s Wolfpack was his second choice. We can assume Manning knows the school well.
Many years later it seems that the story so adamantly pushed by Dean Smith and Larry Brown seems to be getting some transparency that actually fits what a logical thinker would have seen back then had he objectively reviewed the facts of the matter. At the very least, this “conspiracy theory” is one of the first in what would become and remains a long and storied history of the “conspiracy theories” State fans have “conjured up” regarding UNC’s perpetual and clandestine efforts to hold the Wolfpack dow!
While we can all chuckle at the idea of various theories of UNC-CH influence and subterfuge, it is indeed quite curious that a guy like Dean wouldn’t be furious at his underling for pulling apparent recruiting antics to steal away a recruit who ultimately delivered Kansas a national title. Even if Dean took the high road initially, one would think that once the championship was delivered by Manning to Brown, which interestingly enough that win catapulted good old job-jumping Larry Brown back to the NBA, that Dean would be angry as hell. That’s hardly the case.
Once Larry Brown and the Mannings left Lawrence for the NBA after the national championship, Kansas hired a second Dean protege straight from the staff at UNC-CH. Roy “I could give a shit about Carolina right now” Williams ditched Dean in Chapel Hill to be Larry Brown’s successor. Certainly, Dean Smith and the extremely tight “Carolina Basketball Family” would have shunned KU after Brown’s shenanigans recruiting Manning allegedly right out from under Dean’s nose.
If that’s your logical assessment of the situation, you couldn’t be more wrong. In fact, Dean’s relationship with Brown is still so fantastic today that when Brown was selected as the NBA Coach of the Year he chose Dean to present the trophy. Here’s a picture of Dean presenting the NBA Coach of the Year Award to Brown in 2001. Most men would have wrapped that trophy around Larry Brown’s head with visions of Danny Manning holding an NCAA Championship trophy with a net around his neck and a Kansas Jayhawk on his chest emblazoned firmly in the mind, but Dean has always been a better man than most. Right? Right???
Don’t kid yourself. We all see what they did there!!!
Hopefully many of you were able to catch a ride in one of those black helicopters up to St. Louis. Go Pack!!!! Beat the Jayhawks!!!!!
[In case you're still hungry for interesting bits of information to keep your fellow Wolfpacker's entertained/awake before our near-midnight tipoff, the head football coach at Kansas when Larry Brown and Danny Manning were writing Jayhawk basketball history was a nice fellow named Mike Gottfried, Mark Gottfried's uncle and an ESPN college football analyst.]