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April 12, 2012

Focus changes when stepping down to step up

Danny Manning earned his first head coaching opportunity in part because of his work developing former top-50 prospects Marcus Morris, Markieff Morris and Thomas Robinson into All-America forwards at Kansas.

But he's unlikely to get the chance to coach those types of recruits at Tulsa very often.

It's the same transition that faces anyone making the change from assistant coach at a national power to head coach of a mid-major program. Manning's success at Tulsa will depend largely on how he handles the recruiting challenges that come with his new assignment.

"From a recruiting standpoint, you're going to have to have a bigger pool and then figure out exactly what kind of player you can actually get that can help you attain a high level of success," said Marshall coach Tom Herrion, a former assistant on Jamie Dixon's staff at Pittsburgh. "It's not going to be as easy as at Kansas or at Pitt. Now you've got to be even more resourceful in the evaluation process."

The difference is apparent from a look at the roster Manning left behind and the one he inherits at Tulsa.

Although the Kansas team that just reached the national championship game was considered an overachiever that didn't have quite as much talent as usual, the Jayhawks still featured four top-40 recruits and seven top-100 prospects. And that doesn't even include the Morris twins or Josh Selby - former top-50 recruits from the last five years who chose to leave school early.

Tulsa's 2011-12 team didn't include any top-150 recruits.

Manning's situation isn't unique, as many first-year head coaches at mid-majors are former assistants for national powers. Perhaps nobody understands Manning's situation as much as Tim Jankovich, who worked alongside Manning on Bill Self's staff at Kansas before taking over Illinois State's program in 2007.

Gone were the days when he was recruiting primarily top-50 and top-100 prospects. But even though he had to broaden his horizons in that respect, Jankovich adjusted by thinking locally instead of nationally.

"There are a lot of very good players in our area, so our thinking was let's recruit inside out - let's do the best job we can locally and then statewide and the surrounding states," Jankovich said. "That's basically the opposite of what recruiting's like at Kansas. At Kansas it's national. Our focus narrowed to where we'd try to put most of our concentration on our state and the surrounding states."

Manning might want to follow a similar strategy.

The state of Oklahoma has two juniors ranked among the nation's top 150 recruits in their class: Tulsa Booker T. Washington shooting guard Juwan Parker (No. 104) and Edmond Memorial point guard Jordan Woodard (No. 122). Oklahoma City Douglass guard Stevie Clark also could eventually move into the rankings on the strength of his huge junior season.

If Manning can't find enough talent in Oklahoma, he should find plenty of help just outside the state's borders.

"The talent in the state of Oklahoma is not bad," Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Eric Bossi said. "Tulsa has traditionally been a pretty decent basketball city. I think what you'll see is there's going to be a heavy focus on state of Texas because of proximity and there are so many players in the state of Texas. Tulsa has for a while been doing well with the state of Texas, and I think that's definitely going to be a focus for the staff going forward."

The location of a school and its proximity to talent undoubtedly play a major role in the recruiting success of any mid-major coach. But his powers of persuasion are even more important.

CHANGE IN JOB, CHANGE IN PROFILE
The following Division I basketball coaches will be making their collegiate head coaching debuts next season for mid-major or low major programs after previously serving as assistants at major-conference schools or at other national powers.
NameCurrent employerFormer employer
Jerod HaaseUABNorth Carolina
Pat KelseyWinthropXavier
Danny ManningTulsaKansas
Nick RobinsonSouthern UtahLSU
Bennie SeltzerSamfordIndiana
When you're at Kansas or Syracuse or North Carolina, you can sell the history and star power of your program. When you're at a school without that kind of tradition, you must be able to sell yourself.

"Every recruit is different in what he's looking for, but I would say that all things being equal, you do have to sell yourself a little more than you do if you have a nationally recognized name behind you," Jankovich.

That's where Manning's name recognition should help him, no matter how much he tries to downplay it.

"To tell you the truth, the kids that we're recruiting now, they don't know anything about way back when, when guys my age were playing," Manning said at his introductory press conference.

Manning was college basketball's most outstanding player in 1988, the year he led Kansas to a national title. He was the No. 1 overall pick in the draft that year. He went on to play for seven different teams in an NBA career that included two all-star selections.

"Even if the players he's recruiting don't know him, most of the parents certainly will and most of the coaches will," Jankovich said. "Even if they haven't been paying attention, it's a pretty easy sell to say, 'Look, this is my basketball background.' If anyone's willing to listen to that, it certainly would be a tremendous advantage. I think it will serve him well."

Although Manning's name recognition will help, it can only carry him so far. Tulsa still is unlikely to get the types of prospects Kansas signs on a routine basis. He is going to need to find the potential contributors who sailed under the radar for one reason or another.

Every year, there are guys quite capable of producing in college who get overlooked by high major programs because they're undersized for their position or they didn't play in the higher-profile AAU events. A few years later, those guys are making major impacts for mid-major programs. The former high-major assistants who develop into successful mid-major head coaches are the ones who find those guys.

"You have to trust your own basketball instincts and evaluations," said New Mexico State coach Marvin Menzies, a former Louisville assistant. "They're all out there. No one slips through the cracks. You just have to work hard and make sure you're being thorough on your background check with the kids and with the basketball evaluation as well."

Just about every mid-major coach can point to a specific example at his school.

Herrion cites Dennis Tinnon, a 6-foot-8 forward from Kansas City (Kan.) Community College who signed with Marshall after also receiving offers from the likes of Jacksonville State and Oral Roberts. Tinnon compiled 10.2 points and 10 rebounds per game this season, making him one of only 21 players nationwide to average a double-double.

Menzies mentions the time he received a call suggesting that he take a look at an undersized, under-recruited forward with a high-octane motor and a gym-rat mentality. Menzies watched the player and was impressed enough to offer him a scholarship.

The recruit in question was Wendell McKines, a 6-6 forward who led the Aggies to the NCAA tournament this season and ended his college career as just the second player in school history to amass at least 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds.

"He was a perfect example of that," Menzies said. "A lot of the high majors passed on Wendell because he wasn't 6-9. He was only 6-6. Very athletic, very bouncy, didn't shoot it well. His skill set wasn't totally developed at that point out of high school. He was intriguing to a lot of those schools, but at the end of the day they wanted a more finished product, where at the mid-major level, if you're confident in your ability to develop a kid, you've got to project a little more down the line."

As long as he's at Tulsa, Manning may not get a chance to coach anyone quite like Robinson or the Morris twins.

But if he's fortunate, he just might find his own version of Wendell McKines.


Steve Megargee is the national college columnist for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.

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