Former Kansas and NBA standout Danny Manning has been hired to coach the Wake Forest Demon Deacons men’s basketball team after two seasons as the head man at Tulsa. He finished his coaching career with the Golden Hurricane 38-29 overall and 13-3 in Conference USA. Manning will replace Jeff Bzdelik, who was dismissed after four seasons with Tulsa, in which he finished with subpar records of 51-76 overall and 17-51 in conference play. According to reports, Bzdelik never won more than six ACC games or placed higher than ninth in the league in his four seasons at Wake Forest.
In a statement to the press, he said he was thrilled at the chance to continue the Wake Forest tradition, adding that he was eager to begin the journey of returning the Demon Deacons to national prominence and competing for championships.
Manning, 47, was named head coach at Tulsa in 2012 after spending four years as an assistant coach at Kansas under head coach Bill Self, where he parlayed his first-hand knowledge of playing as a big man in the college and pro ranks into being recognized as one of the premiere coaches of big men in the country. In his first year at Tulsa, the Golden Hurricane finished barely above water with a 17-16 overall record and 8-8 in Conference USA, but battled countless injuries and fielded one of the nation’s most inexperienced starting five. Manning’s second year at the helm was far more rewarding as Tulsa would finish 21-13 overall and 13-3 in league play, culminating in a 69-60 victory over Louisiana Tech in the Conference USA tournament championship game. The program would earn its first NCAA tournament berth since 2003, but lost its opening round matchup to UCLA.
The son of a former NBA and ABA player, Manning attended Paige High School in Greensboro, North Carolina where he led the Pirates to a 26-0 record and the state title as a junior. The 6’10” forward then went on to the University of Kansas and became one of the greatest players in the program’s history, leading the Jayhawks to the 1986 Final Four, the 1988 National Championship and finishing his collegiate career as the Big Eight conference’s all-time leading scorer with 2,951 career points.
As a professional, Manning’s 15 years in the NBA were hampered by injury. After being drafted by the Los Angeles Clippers as the number one overall pick, he suffered an ACL tear in his rookie season. He returned to the league the following year after knee surgery, but his potential was never fully realized. His most productive season as a professional came in his fourth year when he averaged 22.8 ppg and was selected to the West All-Star team.That production was short-lived, however, and knee problems would again begin to plague Manning in the mid 90’s and he would go under the knife two more times. Eventually, the strain of reconstructive surgery on both knees began to take its toll. No longer able to endure the pounding of a full game, Manning became a bench player relegated to playing about twenty-six minutes per game, but he reinvented himself and became one of the NBA’s top sixth men, even winning the 1997-98 Sixth Man of the Year Award. He retired in 2003.
Commentary by Rick Sarlat