LAWRENCE, Kan. — Danny Manning comes into the season two inches shorter than he used to be, but that may be the only way the Kansas All-American doesn't measure up.
Manning, who was listed as 6-11 during his first three years in college, was measured at 6-9 during the Pan American Games. It may be a minor mystery where the two inches went, but it is Manning's skills on the court that are truly mystifying.
"I always told them I didn't think I was 6-11," he said, rather sheepishly.
But most important for the Jayhawks in this now-you-see-it-now-you-don't game is the fact that Manning is making an appearance at Kansas at all this season.
The two-time Big Eight player of the year almost decided to leave school early and go into the NBA. But thoughts of family and the future won out over the immediate temptation of a lucrative contract.
"I had to look at it hard. Anybody would, I think," Manning said of going to the NBA. The presence of his father, Ed Manning, as an assistant on Coach Larry Brown's staff and the fact the tight-knit family highly values education finally swayed him.
"It's what is best for me and it's what my family wants me to do," said Manning, who averaged almost 25 points and 10 rebounds as a junior. "My family wants me to stay and get my degree, and that's important. I'm also looking forward to the opportunity to play in the Olympics. The NBA will always be there. Right now I'm just looking forward to having a good senior season."
"We talked about him getting his degree and reaching some of his goals during his college career," said Ed Manning, whom Brown hired as an assistant coach while Danny was a high school junior. "I think it's very important for him to get his degree."
And what about the Incredible Shrinking Manning?
"We take the heights that are passed on to us by a player's high school," a spokesman in the Kansas basketball office said in explaining the original error.
"The Pan Am measurements were done when the players were in their bare feet. We measured all our players this year in their shoes, since they'll be wearing their shoes while they play. That's how Danny came to be 6-10."
Whether he's 6-9, 10 or 11 doesn't matter to Jayhawk followers as long as all of him is theirs.
Three starters return from last year's 25-11 squad, but several newcomers and the return from injury of forward Archie Marshall gives hope for a second Final Four appearance in three years.
At 230 pounds, Manning is about 20 pounds heavier his freshman year. His progress from year to year has been noticeable and steady. His play in the Pam Am Games, where he led the Americans with 14.6 points per game, only enhanced his standing among the elite.
Dating back to high school, he always has been known as a hard worker and strictly team-oriented, and Brown insists those qualities have only become more deeply ingrained.
"Danny is the most improved player on our team," said Brown. "He's just a better player. He's stronger physically. We've had a lot of pro scouts at our practices. The common statement they all make to me is that Danny practices harder than anybody, goes through every drill dedicated to getting better. I think that's the reason he's improved so much."
If he was already assumed by many to be the best college player in the land and he is getting better every practice, how good can Danny Manning be?
"I don't know," says his coach. "He's the best player in the country. And that's not slighting any other player."
When asked to define his personal goals and whether they include player of the year, he smiles and answers in a soft voice.
"It's very hard to go out and live up to other peoples' expectations because you always fall short," he said. "If you go out and do the best you can and try to play within the team concept your coach has set for you, you'll do fine. If you're able to say after every game, 'Hey, I played the best I could,' then you won't have anything to worry about. I'll just do the best I can."
There may be disagreement on how tall he is. But nobody ever questioned Danny Manning's willingness to work hard at being the best he can.