MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Sports

April 5, 2014

Manning bails on TU; players learn second hand

TULSA  — Tulsa basketball players expressed disappointment Friday after learning coach Danny Manning was headed to Wake Forest after two successful seasons with the Golden Hurricane. They also wished him well.

Rashad Smith, a 6-foot-7 forward, said he woke up early for a test.

“I had a little group text with my teammates and they told me,” he said. “I didn’t get much studying done.

“I found out through ESPN. Coach contacted us afterward, just a text to the guys. He let us know what the deal was, let us know he was going to go over there. I’m all for it. It’s a great opportunity for him and his family. We congratulated him and that was that.”

Speaking at AT&T Stadium on Friday, the site of this weekend’s Final Four, Manning noted that he “spent a lot of my formative childhood years” in North Carolina.

“I spent the majority of my life in Kansas,” Manning said, “but this was a chance to be a part of a university that I share the same values and history with.”

His hiring ends Wake Forest’s two-week search for a replacement for Jeff Bzdelik, who resigned under intense public pressure following four mostly unremarkable seasons.

Tulsa went 21-13 and reached the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2003. Manning was 38-29 with two postseason berths in two seasons at Tulsa.

Guard James Woodard, another talented member of the sophomore class, said he would have preferred to hear the news directly from Manning.

“Yeah, I would have liked to,” Woodard said, “but he’s at the Final Four, he really couldn’t make it. So he told us as soon as possible. He apologized for the situation at hand. He loves us all dearly and we love him. We still have love for him and his family. He told us and I was grateful for that. It is (frustrating) but you know in the back of your mind the run we had this year there would be a lot of opportunities out there. I’m happy for him.”

Athletic director Derrick Gragg commended Tulsa President Steadham Upham for putting together a “very highly competitive offer, an extraordinary offer” to try to keep Manning. Gragg said he went to bed Thursday night not sure whether he would wake up with a coach or not.

“Obviously I’m going to be recruiting another coach,” Gragg said. “We’ll talk to some former student-athletes, the athletes here and we are working on retaining a search firm. I will start pre-screening coaches when I get off the plane in Dallas and all through the weekend. There’s no time line, but obviously we would like to get it done sooner than later.”

Woodard said the team will simply work hard and “stay together.” He will be playing for his third coach since being recruited to play at Tulsa.

“It’s kind of a roller-coaster,” Woodard said. “I’ll just have to see, get a feel for the new one they bring in. Build a relationship with him. As of right now it’s still Tulsa. I’ll have to see after they bring him in and see how that goes.”

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