Day 1: Kansas | Traveling Violations
LAWRENCE, Kan. – Preseason pickup games here at Kansas had a bit of added flavor this year: the presence of new Jayhawk staff member and 15-year NBA veteran Danny Manning.
While Manning's best playing days are most certainly behind him – he retired from the Detroit Pistons this past spring – don't think for a minute that the current Kansas kids were having their way with the guy many respectfully call "Mr. Manning."
On the contrary, the best player in Allen Fieldhouse this fall remains the best player in KU history not named Wilt Chamberlain.
"People don't know how good he is," said freshman J.R. Giddens, an All-American recruit. "He has the quickest hands I have ever seen. Especially [on] defense.
"I made a move and got by him and I thought, 'I'm going to dunk on Mr. Manning, I'm going to dunk on Mr. Manning.' And I don't even get the ball up. He just swats it before I can jump."
Manning's knowledge of the game, his ability to teach the intricacies of play and the way he can humble heady freshmen is a huge benefit to new KU coach Bill Self, who jumped at the chance to bring him on board.
Manning also still is an NBA-caliber trash talker. He's subtle, the players say, but he drops zingers that crush.
"He'll remind you he played in the league and you haven't," said senior Bryant Nash.
"He'll talk some stuff," said Wayne Simien. "It's great to have him. He knows the game. Because he's older you think you can out-quick him, but you definitely can't outwit him."
• An early – and incredibly strong – candidacy for trip Administrative Assistant has already been made. Joanie Stephens, the longtime czar of the Kansas basketball office, not only set us up with dinner plans and various information about Lawrence. She also found a high-quality cigar seller for us, the Smoker Friendly, and called ahead to make sure they carried the proper brands.
• For the most part, Kansas is a flat state. Earlier this year bored scientists conducted an experiment to prove that the topography of the state is so even that Kansas is, in fact, flatter than your average pancake.
This is not a joke.
In much of the state you can stand on a can of paint and see Colorado. It is the kind of place where you can watch your dog run away ... for three days.
But not around Lawrence, where the gentle rolling hills and the presence of the Kansas River make this one of the state's prettier spots. Downright scenic even.
• KU assistant Joe Dooley, once the head coach at East Carolina, took wheelman Bret Bearup and I to lunch at the cleverly named "Blue Rib'n Barbeque" in Lawrence where Bearup, a 6-9 former Kentucky Wildcat who is now slightly above his playing weight, had "one of everything."
This is not a joke either.
• It is probably not often that someone travels to Lawrence to get a haircut, but pressed for time Bearup needed to get the mane trimmed. So he found a barber.
"I walked into the place and said, 'Give me a Bill Self,' " Bearup says. "So he pulls out a size eight mixing bowl and some shellac."
• Mike Montgomery is an NABC board member and the head of the group's ethics committee. So you might expect a bit of class and decorum out of the Stanford coach.
But in an on-the-record comment to John Feinstein of the Washington Post, Montgomery shamed himself and his profession by, through pathetically transparent innuendo, calling out Florida coach Billy Donovan, labeling him a cheater without offering any proof or even a specific charge of wrongdoing.
When the media confronted Montgomery about the comments on Wednesday, he denied making them. Which is the same as calling Feinstein a liar.
Feinstein, however, stood by the quotes, and for good reason. By Saturday Montgomery had sent a letter to Donovan saying he was wrong, didn't know of any unethical behavior in the UF program and apologized for the inconvenience.
So to recap: Montgomery called Donovan a cheat, Feinstein a liar and then, it turns out, was lying himself in an effort to cover his rear.
Gee, what an upstanding guy.
Unfortunately Montgomery's behavior is not uncommon in college basketball. Coaches routinely brandish these kind of broad accusations that are backed up by no facts or specifics. The intention is to defame someone and nothing else.
Few know for certain whether Donovan runs a clean program or not. But since there isn't a specific charge for him to defend, you have to sympathize with the blindsided accusation.
By lacking the courage (or knowledge) to get specific, Montgomery offered up a weak act. When caught in a jam, he lied.
And this is the head of the ethics committee.
What a joke Montgomery made of himself and his organization.
• Dinner at J.B. Stout's, the fine Lawrence restaurant, included former New Mexico coach Fran Fraschilla, who is spending his winter working for ESPN, Westwood One radio and scouting for the Houston Rockets. Fraschilla may or may not one day get back into the coaching ranks.
Considering all the news about Dave Bliss at Baylor, Fraschilla's clean up of New Mexico (where he succeeded Bliss) looks a heck of a lot better now than it did six months ago.
"I would only go back for the right opportunity," said Fraschilla. "I'm living in Dallas. I get to spend a lot of time with my family. Life is great. I'm loving it."
• Giddens, a truly ridiculous athlete out of Oklahoma City, says the true measure of a great dunker is found in his ability to complete the granddaddy of all throw-downs – the free-throw line dunk. Giddens can do it in his sleep.
"A lot of guys can do between the legs, the cradle, the windmill," Giddens said. "To go from the free-throw line separates guys who jump and guys who have hops."
• Is there a more egotistical guy in Kansas than Dave of "Famous Dave's Barbeque" in the west suburbs of Kansas City? We never heard of him. Yet he thinks he's famous.
Mileage thus far: 96.2 miles
Campaign stop tomorrow: Columbia, Mo.
- Mike Montgomery