LAWRENCE, Kan. — Whether he likes it or not, Danny Manning is the big name in the Big Eight this year.
With Wayman Tisdale of Oklahoma having moved on to the NBA, Manning's place at the Unversity of Kansas becomes all the more important.
Such attention is not unfamiliar to Manning, the most recruited high school player in the nation a year ago. He grimaces at the prospect of another spotlight on him.
"I am not the George Brett of Kansas basketball," Manning said in reference to the the All-Star third baseman of the champion Kansas City Royals. "Nobody carries this team. In fact, last year I tended to sit back and watch instead of trying to do things myself."
Manning, 6-foot-11, has a clear idea of his role under Coach Larry Brown.
"Setting screens one night, scoring another, rebounding the next -- I do whatever needs to be done," he said. "I'm the balancer on our team. I complement everybody else."
Said Brown: "We want him to be the best in everything -- not just the best rebounder or defender. And he wants is to be the best. This year, I don't think he's under the pressure he was under with all the fanfare (coming out of high school), so things should be easier on him."
Manning said he recognizes his deficiencies of last year.
"I just felt like I had to gamble," he said. "I'd go for a steal and leave my teammates in a bad position. I led the team in fouls ... I have so much more to learn."
"Sometimes he'd gamble and try for the great play, but that's because he sees the court so well," Brown said. "This year, he's more confident. He's already made unbelievable improvement. Shoot, I was thrilled with what he did last year."
Manning led the Jayhawks in rebounding and steals. He also finished second in scoring and assists as the Jayhawks went 26-8 and played in the NCAA Tournament.
Last summer at the National Sports Festival, Manning starred for Brown on the gold-medal winning North team. This winter, Manning and Kansas will vie for the Big Eight championship before an already soldout Allen Field House, where the Jayhawks have won 16 consecutive games.
"I want teams to say 'Oh my God -- we've got to play Kansas,"' Manning said. "And I want to intimidate and make my presence felt. I want to catch the ball, post up and make some strong moves inside."
Manning lifted weights three times a week this summer. Though his weight is up only 10 pounds to 215, Manning said his strength, stamina and quickness have improved dramatically.
"I've got a lot more confidence in myself and a better feeling for the game," he said. "A lot of people said I wouldn't be able to rebound in college. It did hurt me last year, not being able to push inside. I don't see myself as a great rebounder or defensive player. I just hold my own right now."
Manning takes his greatest pride from the least conspicuous aspect of his game.
"I get a better feeling when I make a good pass because it's one of the best phases of our game," he said. "I have a sister four years younger. My parents taught me to be unselfish with her and it carries over to the basketball court."
Selfishness has been less of a problem for the Jayhawks this year.
"We had a tendency to go our separate ways instead of coming together last year," Manning said. "But as we get to know each other better, we'll make sacrifices. Working together, we have the potential to be a Final Four team."
By March, Manning may have had the chance to fulfill a dream he's been having these nights.
"There's one second on the clock, we're down by a point and I'm at the line shooting one-and-one," he said. "That's one case when I do want the basketball for myself."