Larry Brown knew it was over. He knew it was time to take the starters out, time to let each one savor the final seconds of victory. North Carolina State was about to be beaten, 75-67, here Sunday, and Kansas was going to the Final Four.
First Ron Kellogg, the brash senior with the lefty jump shot and the runaway mouth. Then Calvin Thompson, the savior in Friday's victory over Michigan State. After that came Greg Dreiling, the 7-foot-1 fifth-year center who finally had shed his cement shoes in the regional final. Cedric Hunter, the quicksilver point guard, joined Dreiling.
There were hugs and high-fives. Brown looked up at the clock. Twenty-three seconds. The lead was 72-63. Okay, now he could do it. One more sub went to the scorer's table.
And out of the game, finally, came Danny Manning. Coach looked at player. Player looked at coach. And then they did something remarkable: They smiled.
"I was thinkin' about how proud I was for Danny," Brown said. "He's the very best player in the country and he proved that for certain today."
Not since his junior year at Page High School in Greensboro, N.C., has anyone questioned Danny Manning's talent. He is one of those players blessed with rare skills and talent about which other players can only fantasize.
He is most often compared to Earvin (Magic) Johnson because at 6-11 he can run, jump, pass, catch and handle the ball. But where Johnson plays with joy and abandon, Manning has often played with the same worried look his coach so often wears.
"I'm just a different type of person," he said Sunday. "I like to do my own thing, be with myself and my friends and play basketball. I may not show a lot of emotion, but I think I play with a lot of it."
That he is an introvert is not surprising. His father Ed Manning, a former NBA player, is a quiet man, with an easy smile and a warm glow.
Both Mannings have been closely scrutinized since Brown hired Ed Manning as his assistant at Kansas when Danny was beginning his senior year of high school. The assumption made by many was that Brown hired the father to recruit the son. If Ed Manning hadn't gone to Kansas, Danny Manning probably would have gone to North Carolina State.
"It's weird thinking about it," Danny Manning said. "I really like the people at State, the coaches and the players. But this is why I came to Kansas. We're going to the Final Four."
Of course the argument easily can be made that North Carolina State, which came up one game short of that goal the last two seasons, would have gone both years with young Manning. Touted for his talent, taunted for his college choice, he has been painfully shy since arriving at Kansas.
When he came out of the game Sunday, even amid the euphoria of his teammates, he still didn't let go entirely. In a moment when one would expect a son to jump into his father's arms, Danny and Ed Manning shook hands.
"I wanted to hug him," Ed Manning said, "but I just didn't have the chance. Danny knows how I felt, though. Inside, I was bubbling over."
It is not Danny Manning's way to reveal that side of himself. Like so many athletes who become bigger-than-life long before they are old enough to understand much about living, he keeps his feelings private.
He speaks almost inaudibly at times. He has his father's smile, but not his ease with strangers, and when he responds to questions, he tends to give stock answers. When he scored 12 straight points to save his team Sunday, it was, he insisted, because his teammates created openings for him.
When someone asked him what he was thinking during that stretch, he delivered a short speech on inspirational pregame talks he had been given all season.
Shy himself, Brown understands how frightening success can be, especially to one as young as Manning, and so has not pushed him.
"I backed off on pushing him to be more aggressive last year," Brown said. "I wanted that to come from Danny. And I wanted the other kids to recognize his talents. I wanted them to look for him when it was time to without me having to tell them."
The evolution of Manning and this 35-3 team is more delicate than one might think. When Brown became coach three seasons ago, Kellogg and Thompson, talented and high-strung, already were in school. Dreiling, once spoken of in the same breath with Patrick Ewing when the two were in high school, had transferred from Wichita State, a confused and awkward young man.
And, one year away, was Manning, who already was receiving more attention as a high school senior than any of the players in the Kansas program. "Coach Brown knew that we were good players," Kellogg said. "He didn't come in thinking he had to change everything in the program for us to win. He let us know right away he had confidence in us."
For Kansas to reach its extraordinary potential, players such as Kellogg, Thompson and Dreiling had to decide that Manning was the best player on the team. They couldn't be told by the coach, by the media or by Manning. That Manning does as much as he does to deflect attention elsewhere probably made that easier.
That does not mean it has been easy. Kansas is 61-11 the last two seasons, but at times everyone has struggled. Brown still is rumored to be looking to return to the NBA, there is constant speculation that Manning might leave early to turn pro and, at times, he plays more like a scared kid than a silky-smooth star.
The talent is so great, though, and Brown is such a good coach that the problems usually are overcome. There also is the luck factor: If Michigan State, the best foul shooting team in the nation, had made its free throws Friday night, Kansas would be home with a 33-4 record and everyone would be asking, "What went wrong?"
"The pressure has been there all season," Manning finally admitted Sunday. "From the first day of practice we've seen people on campus wearing T-shirts that said, 'Destination Dallas.' We knew coming here that we had had a great year. But if we didn't win here, people would say we failed. That's pressure."
A year ago, even earlier this season, Manning might have hid from the pressure. He might have preferred that Kellogg and Thompson take the shots when the Jayhawks trailed by 57-52 with less than nine minutes to go. And, if truth be told, Kellogg and Thompson probably would have been delighted to take them.
But not now. Now, Manning wants the ball. He still would prefer to put on his Yankees warm-up jacket and his headphones and go home at game's end without having to talk about taking the big shots. But at least now he wants to take the shots.
When that is the case, Kansas is awfully tough for anyone to beat. "Danny is as important to his team as any player in the country is," Brown said. "I'm not takin' anything away from Len Bias or Walter Berry or Johnny Dawkins, but Danny's the best."
And, most important, now he wants to be the best.