While I am not sure where the phrase “one-man show” derived from, it was never more apparent where it needed to be used when the 1988 NCAA Final Four was taking place. Sure the Kansas Jayhawks will be the first to tell you that every player on that team contributed in some way to enable their improbable championship run, and by all accounts it is true. No one can ever discredit the makeup of a basketball team, (uh hum) a Larry Brown team especially, who worked hard to capture the NCAA Tournament title. Spin it how you like, but there is no denying it was a measure of Danny Manning’s excellence that so many perceived that group as “Danny and the Miracles.”
Possessing the skills of a small forward but with the height of a center, Manning was a stud in all four years in Lawrence, Kansas. Three-time Big Eight player of the year, two-time All-American, and once National Player of the Year. Of his 147 games played, 132 of them Manning scored in double figures, establishing a new conference points record. However, with all of the accolades and scoring prowess, Danny was not a dominant player during much of the 1987-88 campaign. The Jayhawks even experienced a losing streak that left them with a 12-8 record at one point. With a strong finish to the regular season, they were fortunate to even receive an invite to the big dance.
Entering the tournament no one had even given Kansas a snowball’s chance in hell to win. But this is before the light switch was clicked for number 25 who in the Sweet Sixteen began to sense an opportunity. Manning went on a tear scoring 38 points on 16-of-29 shooting against Vanderbilt. And while many noticed that the overall concept of team oriented Kansas was suddenly changing, there was nothing anyone could do to stop it. Larry Brown found an “Iverson-like” way to get his team to rally behind the one player who could get them to the promise land, and it worked.
Manning powered Kansas into the Final Four where he would average 28 points. He carried his squad from a 50-50 halftime tie to an 83-79 victory against a heavily-favored Oklahoma team in the tittle game with an incredible 31 point and 18 rebound performance. He simply stepped out of character and onto a stage where he did what he had to do in order to bring home the ultimate prize.
There have been 64 players in NCAA history who topped 2,500 career points. Danny Manning is only one of two with a championship ring (Tyler Hansbrough of North Carolina is the other). Of course he did not do it alone, but he sure did come close.