Some called it impossible. Others called it inconceivable.
Kansas winning the 1988 national championship? Not a chance.
During Danny Manning’s senior year, Kansas dropped four games in a row in late January and early February, with two of them — against Kansas State and Oklahoma — at home. Kansas would lose to Duke at home in overtime a few weeks later.
Kansas entered the 1988 NCAA Tournament with a 21-11 record. Never before had a team with 11 losses won the national championship.
That’s exactly why the “Danny and the Miracles” nickname was born. The Jayhawks winning in 1988? Absolutely improbable, it seemed. But it happened.
As the No. 6 seed in the Midwest, Kansas advanced past No. 11 seed Xavier (85-72), No. 14 seed Murray State (61-58), No. 7 seed Vanderbilt (77-64) and No. 4 seed Kansas State (71-58) to get to the Final Four.
The Jayhawks had to meet up with the Duke Blue Devils in the Final Four. Duke — the team that ousted Kansas from the Final Four in 1986. Duke — the team that came into Allen Fieldhouse a month prior and won in overtime. That Duke.
Manning totaled 25 points and 10 rebounds as Kansas upset Duke, 66-59.
There was one game left: The National Championship, against Oklahoma.
The Sooners were the No. 1 seed in the Southeast and had toppled over everyone in their path, winning the five preceding games by an average of 17 points. During the regular season, Oklahoma handily swept the Jayhawks.
After a tied 50-50 first half, Kansas squeaked out a narrow 83-79 win for its first national championship since 1952.
“This feeling is great to be able to close out my career like this in Kansas City, in front of people that have supported me for four years,” Manning said in 1988. “It’s something that’s well deserved for them, but it wasn’t a gift. Some people said we got lucky, but what’s luck? Luck presents opportunity, and we took that opportunity.
This is for all the people who said it couldn’t be done, that we wouldn’t make it ... This is from the national champions. The No. 1 team in the country. How do you like us now?”
In the win, Manning scored 31 points and posted 18 rebounds. Milt Newton added 15 points, and Kevin Pritchard contributed 13 points.
One of Manning’s most fond memories of his college career came immediately after the National Championship Game. The team was sitting together in the locker room for the final time as a team.
"And it hit me,” Manning said. “This is the last time we'll ever play together, this group as a team. I was taking it all in. I was enjoying the moment, enjoying my teammates."
Everything culminated like a Hollywood motion picture for Manning’s collegiate career.
In his freshman season, Kansas finished the 1984-85 season 26-8 and placed second in the Big Eight. Manning averaged 14.6 points and 7.6 rebounds per game. And his output only increased from there.
The 1985-86 Jayhawks, under Manning’s leadership, advanced to the Final Four for the first time since since the 1973-74 season. But against Duke in the Final Four, Manning scored four points on 2-of-9 shooting. Kansas lost 67-71.
“1986, I think really helped prepare us for ,” Manning said. “Just handling the energy and the buzz around it was unique and different because we never had that experience before.”
Manning turned into another level of player the next two seasons, averaging 23.9 points per game during his junior campaign and 24.8 points per game during his senior campaign. During his senior season, Manning scored 942 points, a Kansas record for single-season scoring.
Manning's career numbers in points, rebounds, made field goals and double-doubles are still school records. And his numbers for made free throws, steals and blocked shots are all in the top-10 all-time as well.
Manning — now the coach at Wake Forest — saw his jersey retired on Dec. 1, 1992 with his wife, daughter and father by his side. Since it was so long ago, he doesn’t remember every detail from when his jersey was hoisted into history.
But, what he does remember is how he feels about it now.
He’s been back to Lawrence many times since his playing days were over, and he was an assistant coach under Bill Self from 2007-12. Both his children graduated from and played sports for Kansas. His daughter Taylor played volleyball and his son Evan played basketball.
When Manning has returned to Allen Fieldhouse, it’s hard not to notice his No. 25 hanging in the rafters.
"It makes me feel humbled,” Manning said of seeing his jersey retired. “I feel honored. But I feel like it's a team award. If I didn't have unselfish teammates, that would not have been possible.”
— Edited by Ashley Hocking