Manning's mission to return Wake Forest to ACC prominence

Winston-Salem JournalApril 8, 2014 

Wake Forest Manning Basketball

Newly hired Wake Forest head basketball coach Danny Manning rides on the back of a motorcycle driven by the team mascot as he is introduced to students and supporters at a rally at the school in Winston-Salem, N.C., Tuesday, April 8, 2014. The former Kansas star is taking over the project of rebuilding the Demon Deacons.


— One doesn’t win championships as a player and a coach by backing down from tough challenges.

Danny Manning sees no need to start now that he has been introduced as the new Wake Forest basketball coach.

“It’s our name,” Manning said Tuesday. “It’s who we are.

“We’re going to go out there, and we’re going to go toe-to-toe. We’re coming out, and we’re throwing blows, and we’re going to continue to throw blows. We’re going to take some knocks along the way, but we’re going to fight, and we’re going to scrap.

“At the end of the day, I think if we put forth the effort necessary, we’re going to continue to develop and get better. Hopefully there will be a lot of teams that don’t want to see us.”

Manning was named the coach Friday, while he and Athletics Director Ron Wellman were in Dallas at the Final Four. On Tuesday, Manning appeared with his wife, Julie, and children Taylor and Evan at a media conference that was followed by his pep rally on the main quad of campus.

Displaying generous parts humility and determination, Manning described a style of play he hopes to instill in a program that suffered through four frustrating seasons under his predecessor, Jeff Bzdelik.

Manning was the national player of the year for the Kansas team that won the 1988 NCAA championship and an assistant for the Kansas team that won the 2008 title. In between, he overcame three knee surgeries to play 15 seasons in the NBA.

He spent the past two seasons at Tulsa, his first head-coaching position, and led his team to this season’s Conference USA title and first NCAA tournament appearance since 2003.

“I think for us, we want to come in and be an up-tempo team,” Manning said. “We want to be aggressive offensively and defensively. We want to create energy.

“We’re going to hang our hat on the defensive side of the ball. We’re going to make sure we go out and compete defensively. We’re going to contest every pass. We’re going to try to contest every shot. We don’t want to give up any unearned, or easy buckets. I think that’s the first thing we have to establish.

“And offensively, we want to be in an attack mode. I believe in paint touches. We want to get the ball into the paint, either by the bounce or by the pass. But I think once you’re able to do that, you break down the defense, and it gives you a chance to be a little bit more successful on the offensive end.”

Manning joked that the Final Four is not the best place to be while accepting a new job because of all the coaches on hand who want jobs. He said he’s in no great hurry to assemble his staff but said he plans to give heavy consideration to his assistants at Tulsa – Brett Ballard, Wendell Moore and Steve Woodberry.

His director of operations at Tulsa, Justin Bauman, was with Manning at the Final Four and at Tuesday’s festivities.

“We’ll see the exact number – I don’t know,” Manning said. “I think a lot of it will be determined by being here for a few days and deciding what we need and what we’re looking for in terms of a staff – and also in putting together a group that can go out and recruit. That’s the name of the game. You’ve got to go out and get players that fit your system, fit your profile and fit your university.”

Wellman said he was impressed with the way Tulsa overcame six losses in its first seven games this past season to win 11 straight late in the season.

He said he asked in the interview what Manning did differently to turn the team around.

On Tuesday, Wellman repeated Manning’s answer.

“He said ‘Nothing. We didn’t do anything differently. We just believed in the system that we had, and we just worked a little bit harder. Everyone came along and started to understand what this system was about and what our beliefs were about.’ And that played out into a great season at Tulsa this year.”

Manning spent most of his childhood in Greensboro, said he grew up watching ACC basketball and remembered when Wake Forest played its home games in Greensboro.

“We have aspirations of being a championship team,” he said. “We want to cut down nets. We’re going to put forth the work to put ourselves in that situation.

“It’s not going to be easy, but I’m willing to roll up my sleeves and let’s go get it.”

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