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Kansas Basketball Press Conference: Danny Manning Talks Big Men, Coaching And The NCAA Tournament

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This isn't really tournament in terms of the content, but being tourney time it was a presser related to the tournament. It's also notable because Danny Manning is one of the more talked about assistant coaches around our league and certainly among Kansas fans due to the development of the Kansas bigs during his tenure. Yesterday Manning and others sat down with the media and talked about that subject among others including Thomas Robinson, the NCAA Tournament and aspirations of being a head coach.

Kansas assistant coach Danny Manning
On how much credit he should take on developing big guys:

"Well, first of all I think it starts with Coach Self. He's got a system that puts big guys in a position to be successful for many, many years. He does some different things here as far as offensive schemes and playing inside-out. With his high-low offense, that's something that's geared towards guys working hard and creating scoring opportunities. For me, I just like to share with them the different angles and different ways to create post position. I think it all starts with footwork, so that's something that we try to stress each and every day."

On what the challenges were going into the season with Thomas Robinson:

"This year's team, obviously we're not as deep as we've been in the past, so we just wanted to make sure we were solid in what we were showing them. We didn't want to show them or give them too many things to absorb and take in. We've gone into more of a basic `big' package and that's a move over your right shoulder, a move over your left shoulder and a counter over both, on post catches. Then, if you catch the ball off the block we do different things in terms of facing up and driving the basketball. Then, obviously, ball screens and being able to pick-and-pop and reading the defense and making a play from there."

On when the last time a simple "big" package was implemented:

"We've always implemented this package here. This is just a year where we've kept it more so bare bones, if you will, because of our lack of numbers. Those guys have a lot that they need to absorb and need to do for a team to be successful."

On how much Robinson has grown from last year to this year:

"Thomas has grown tremendously, going from his freshman year playing eight minutes or less a game, to last year playing less than 15, to this year. He's been someone who has come in learned, and gotten better. The reason he's gotten better is the guys that he has went up against. There aren't a lot of guys who put themselves in that type of situation, in terms of coming to a school that has three players end up being first-round picks. There are a lot of guys who wouldn't want anything to do with that situation and he met it head on. Obviously, he didn't play as much as he would have liked his freshman year or his sophomore year, but he stayed after it. Last summer he worked extremely hard and played well in all the camps. It's his time, it's his opportunity and he's making the most of it."

On if he saw this type of potential in Robinson all along:

"We thought he could be a talented basketball player here. We thought he could help us win a lot of games. We felt 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's seized his opportunity and definitely made the most (of it)."

On how much of a concern foul trouble was coming into this season with Robinson:

"A lot of concern because his first two years that was his role, to come in and be aggressive, to guard the other team's best frontcourt player, to make them work, to make them labor. We would play the post single coverage most of the time he came in because his role was that. He committed a lot of fouls his first couple years, but that's kind of what we wanted him to do, in terms of making the other team's bigs labor to score. That was the same role Cole (Aldrich) had his freshman year and the Twins (Marcus and Markieff Morris) as well. They all evolved from that because of the depth we've had and how we play."

On if that is a difficult transition:

"I think you have to adapt to the role. If you go back and think about Cole's (Aldrich) sophomore year, he got into foul trouble early a lot because he had the same mentality as his freshman year. It's a different role and it takes some adjusting. Thomas (Robinson) went through that adjustment period earlier this year. Jeff (Withey) probably didn't get into as much foul trouble as those other guys in the past just because the type of defender he is. He's a physical presence, but he's not extremely physical in terms of how he plays defense. He uses timing, he uses his shot blocking and his length to be a great defender."

On Robinson's energy:

"Thomas is someone who a lot of people know his story, which is remarkable, but he's someone that needs to play with effort and energy to be effective. That's regardless of whether he's making shots or catching the ball in the post. He is an effort and energy guy first and everything else falls into place after."

On if that is Robinson's personality or if he has to reach for that energy:

"No, that's his personality. I think this year more so than any other year we've been here, with us not being as deep as we've been in the past he gets the chance to do a few more things other guys did not have the luxury of doing. (For example) playing as many minutes as he's playing. In the past, he's always had two other bigs to sub in and that wouldn't limit their effectiveness right there because of our depth. That's nothing against them, but we were able to keep fresher bodies in the game."

On how the tragedies Robinson faced helped him mature:

"I think when most people get to college they always see things - Coach Self talks about this all the time - and how it affects you. How every situation affects you, the individual, and you don't have a sense of the broader, greater picture. I think when all those tragedies started happening in his life, he looked at things a lot differently. That's a sign of developing and maturing. Hopefully, everyone has that vision once they leave college, whether you're an athlete or not."

On if he thinks Robinson played differently after the tragedies:

"He had more emotional energy and I think he had more of a purpose."

On if he's had to reign in those emotions at times with Robinson:

"Absolutely. Coach Self, Coach Townsend, Coach Dooley, Coach Hinson, all of us have. That's part of who he is. Effort and energy players have a lot of emotion. He's had to make some adjustments, especially with how teams play him. Teams try to use that effort and energy against him by being very physical with him and hoping he can get into a bump and grind situation and pick up a cheap foul. Those are definitely things we've talked to him about."

On if they will do anything differently in the NCAA Tournament with different types of officiating:

"We're going to go out and play the way that we play and adjust on the fly."

On if Robinson will be a good professional basketball player:

"I believe so. I think he's going to be a very good pro for a very long time. I think looking from the outside in, the professional levels are looking for guys who play with effort and energy on a consistent basis. I think there is a cycle that it goes through. There are certain times when they are looking for skill and talent to make plays, but I think now they're looking for more guys who want to bring a hard hat and do all the dirty work. He's definitely capable of doing that for a very long time."

On what he is consistently looking for in players to develop:

"As a player, I think footwork is extremely important. Your feet put you in a position to score the basketball, so we spend a lot of time on footwork. We spend time on hand-eye coordination. We do different drills to create better awareness of what is going on around you. I think a lot of times when you put guys in certain drills they are able to do the drill just fine with one ball going up. Well, we try to do multiple drills at the same time to create awareness and to create a sense of knowing that when I'm on the court there are nine other players out there with me. Where are they? Those are types of things we work on every day."

On where his coaching philosophies come from:

"I've had a chance to play for a lot of great coaches. I try to use different things from each of them. I also try to incorporate them into our system and what Coach Self wants done. It's kind of just a smorgasbord of being around a lot of great coaches and great players. Just picking up different things and hopefully it all works out at the end."

On if being a good big man coach comes from past experiences:

"My experience, Coach Self's system and the way we do things here; there's an emphasis of making sure our post players touch the basketball and that's something Coach Self has done as long as I can remember. It's evolved since we've been here into doing different things, but the basis comes back to the anchor in the middle. All good teams have someone in the middle to anchor it, whether it's offensively or defensively."

On what he has added to the system that maybe Coach Self didn't have:

"I think everybody puts their minds together and we try to figure out what's best for our team at this particular time. That's obviously all spearheaded by Coach Self, but we all have a chance to have our input."

On if he wants to be a head coach:

"You always aspire to get better, to improve and learn each and every day. I'm in a great spot learning from Coach Self and being around Coach Dooley, Townsend and Hinson. I just want to soak up as much as I can. When it happens, it happens."

On what he has learned from the coaching staff:

"Coach Self is a great teacher, motivator, but it's his people skills and the way he relates to the players that is outstanding. Coach Dooley is a stats guy with numbers and all that. Coach Townsend has an uncanny ability to relate to any and every player. Coach Hinson sees things differently because he's been a head coach before and he has his views. All those guys have helped me and I've enjoyed it."

On if he likes scouting opponents:

"It's a lot of fun. It's tedious, but it's fun because it gives you a chance to learn and try to figure out the strengths and weaknesses of each individual and what they're trying to do offensively. What you can take away and how you can limit someone's effectiveness. Those are all fun things for me to do because I enjoy ball and I like watching."

On if former players come back for advice:

"When players come back it's not just about basketball. It's probably more enjoyable to talk about aspects of life and family. Those things are always important. It's nice to see them develop and grow as a husband, a father and as a son. We really enjoy spending time with guys when they come back."

On if he likes recruiting:

"I do. It's a chance to get out and watch basketball and try to learn. Every experience is a learning experience. You want to pick something up and you want to have an open mind. That's the thought process for me."

On Kansas signee Perry Ellis:

"He's a very talented individual. He's an incredible young man in terms of off the court demeanor and how focused he is on academics. I got a chance to watch him a lot these last four years and he's improved every year. He's a humble young man and he's going to come here with those accolades alone and have a big impact."

On if he thinks Ellis is the best player in the history of Kansas high school basketball:

"I would definitely say he would have to be at the top, winning four state championships in a row. Winning as many games in a row, which I think was 60-something. Being the focal point each and every time he stepped on the court and still finding a way to help your team win. Yes, I would say he's at the top, but he's not by himself. There are a lot of guys who have had great high school careers also."