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Danny Manning proves value to KU

Kansas legend and current assistant Danny Manning stepped off the team bus at the JW Marriott in New Orleans on Wednesday sporting a blue warm-up suit with a KU logo emblazoned on the chest.

Hopefully, someone snapped a good picture.

Manning will always be a Jayhawk at heart -- but his days of wearing his alma mater's colors are numbered.

Manning was named the new head coach at Tulsa on Thursday, meaning this weekend's Final Four will be the last time the former All-American and 15-year NBA veteran will bark instruction from KU's bench.

At least for the forseeable future.

Manning declined to speak with reporters Wednesday, but Kansas coach Bill Self said Manning was "very encouraged and excited" about the possibility of coaching at Tulsa.

The Golden Hurricane should be equally thrilled.

Since joining Kansas' staff in the spring of 2003, Manning has helped the Jayhawks program become one of the best in the nation at developing post players. Lately the school has even been referred to as "Big Man U."

Since Manning began providing tutelage nine years ago, only two Kansas post players who started at least 50 percent of the team's games in a single season have failed to be selected in the NBA draft.

David Padgett started as a freshman in 2003-04 before transferring to Louisville, where he battled injury problems. Walk-on Christian Moody started 25 games in 2004-05 but never pursued a professional career.

Otherwise, Manning has helped every other KU post player with the above-mentioned figures blossom into a professional-caliber player. The list of NBA draftees includes Wayne Simien, Julian Wright, Darnell Jackson, Sasha Kaun, Darrell Arthur, Cole Aldrich, and Marcus and Markieff Morris. Others such as Padgett, Jeff Graves and C.J. Giles have earned money overseas.

"I'm blessed to have even met him," said Markieff Morris, who is in his first year with the Phoenix Suns. "He's the best big-man coach in the country. Any time that whistle blows and you look over to that sideline, he's telling you what to do.

"I owe most of my success to him."

Perhaps no Kansas team has been influenced by Manning's presence as much as the 2011-12 Jayhawks, whose Final Four run has been spearheaded, in part, by a frontcourt tandem that had a minimal impact prior to this season.

Thomas Robinson, who averaged 14 minutes per game as a sophomore and only seven as a freshman, has been one of the top two players in the country this season, along with Anthony Davis. The 6-foot-9 forward -- who was a unanimous first-team All-American selection -- is projected to be a top-five pick in this summer's NBA draft.

"We thought he could be a talented basketball player," Manning said of Robinson. "We thought he could help us win a lot of games. We thought if the cards fell right, he could have a tremendous year. I can't say I saw a potential player-of-the-year candidate, but he seized his opportunity and made the most of it."

Robinson's partner down low is 7-foot center Jeff Withey, who has blossomed into one of the country's top shot-blockers. A junior, Withey swatted 10 shots in Kansas' Sweet 16 victory over North Carolina State. Two nights later, he outplayed future lottery picks Tyler Zeller and John Henson to help KU beat North Carolina and advance to the Final Four.

"Jeff has the skill set to play at the professional level," Manning said. "Jeff just needs to gain some damn weight. It gets easier as you grow older, that's for sure."

Coaching is very rewarding. You see growth on the court, you see it off the court. These guys come to you as high school seniors, as college freshmen. They're still boys, embarking on young adulthood.

-- Danny Manning

Manning, 45, joined KU's staff as a director of student-athlete development/team manager during Self's first season in Lawrence in 2003-04. He eventually became director of basketball operations before being promoted to full-time assistant with recruiting duties in 2007.

The chance to stay home and coach at his alma mater was perfect for Manning, who didn't want to uproot his family while his children, Taylor and Evan, went to high school. Taylor is currently a sophomore on KU's volleyball team; Evan, who graduated from high school last spring, is playing basketball at a prep school in New Hampshire.

"When I retired from professional basketball, I was not ready to be a full-time coach," Manning said last spring. "I wanted to do some other things as far as being around my family and some of the activities that my kids had going on. Now the situation has changed. We just have to go with the flow and see how things go."

Manning has certainly prepared for the next step.

After more than a decade of earning millions in the NBA, Manning has performed just about every task imaginable at Kansas: booking team travel, running camps, preparing scouting reports, counseling players, making in-home visits, providing on-court instruction.

Manning wanted to dabble in everything before deciding whether he wanted to pursue a head-coaching career.

After seven years, it appears he has his answer.

"Coaching is very rewarding," Manning said. "You see growth on the court, you see it off the court. These guys come to you as high school seniors, as college freshmen. They're still boys, embarking on young adulthood.

"Hopefully when they leave after playing for Coach Self and in our system, they're off on a good foot as they head toward manhood."

As much as he's helped the Jayhawks, the last seven seasons have been beneficial to Manning, too. Just like the young players he coaches, Manning had to learn a whole new side of the game when he joined Self's staff.

"For me, the hard part was, at times, not understanding or figuring out why it was so hard to get through to guys," Manning said. "Not only in coaching, but toward the end of my playing career, too. I was like, 'Hey, I want to help you. This is my thought process. This is what I see from where I'm sitting on the bench.' Sometimes guys are receptive to that, sometimes they're not.

"The biggest thing is creating a relationship with them away from the game, where they know when you say something to them, you have their best interest in the forefront. My father always told me it was like a bank account. You want to make sure you have more deposits than withdrawls."

Self, whose team plays Ohio State in Saturday's national semifinal, said he couldn't be more impressed with the impact Manning -- the No. 1 pick in the 1988 NBA draft -- has had on players such as Robinson and Withey.

"Our big thing here is scoring before you catch the ball," Self said. "Even the best players are only going to make one or two great spin moves a game to get past their defender. So it's all about doing things to make sure you're going to score once you get the ball.

"Danny is the best when it comes to teaching guys about footwork and angles and putting yourself in a position to make something happen."

Self said Manning was known as a "cerebral player" during a pro career that was often slowed by injuries. A two-time NBA All-Star, Manning suffered three ACL tears during his time in the NBA.

"That obviously played a negative role in his playing career," Self said, "but it was probably a positive in his coaching career. He's had to teach guys to do it the way he had to learn to do it after he was hurt, as opposed to just being a superstar. A lot of guys can't do what superstars do.

"He's hungry. He's detail-oriented. He's beyond his years, basketball-wise. He's definitely ready to be a head coach."

Jason King covers college basketball for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKingESPN.