Weak field gives one-man shows a shot

They called them Danny and the Miracles.

You would think it would be condescending, to get second billing like that. But, no, it wasn’t and isn’t. Being a Miracle is a wonderful thing.

Beyond Danny Manning, can you name any of them? Chances are, if you’re out of earshot of the Rock Chalk chant, you’re drawing a blank. And yet, they remain immortal. Those Kansas Jayhawks, the 1988 NCAA men’s basketball champions, remain one of the most beloved teams of all time.

In a tournament that promises 63 (now 67) Shining Moments every season, Manning leading a ragtag bunch to the ’88 title remains one of the shiniest there ever was.

Danny and the Miracles. The name itself, it’s music. It’s magic. It’s all you need to say.

And 23 years later, there’s as good a chance as there ever was that it could happen all over again.

There are Dannys out there, this season. There are Miracles waiting in the wings.

It was lightning in a bottle, that 1988 March Madness run. Kansas limped into the tournament as a No. 6 seed. The Jayhawks had injuries, and uncertainty, and lots of losses. And then as ever, people were wondering whether coach Larry Brown was already looking toward his next job.

But they had Manning. Yes, there had been Bill Bradley. There had been Larry Bird. But never before had the NCAA tournament seen a player put a team on his back like that. Never taken them all the way to the title, the way Manning did.

And we’ve talked about it ever since.

But this might be the year. Look around. The tournament is as weak as it ever was. And if they can just come up with a few miracles, there are Dannys in the field.

This season, if everything falls into place, one great player might be all you need.

If he’s great enough.

The obvious pick, of course, is Jimmer Fredette at BYU. With the loss of his wingman, Brandon Davies, to an honor-code violation, Fredette officially becomes the Cougars’ lone gunman. He’s the kind of player who can score, create, and conjure the kind of magic that could produce a Manning-like run.

And the guys on the court with him look enough like the Miracles to play them on a TV movie of the week.

With the loss of Davies, the Cougars are officially underdogs now. But Fredette’s style of play meshes well with March Madness.

Can you see him playing big in the maddest moments, hitting a few miracle buckets? Yeah, me, too.

Ditto Jacob Pullen of Kansas State. He has put the Wildcats on his back, after vowing he’d walk away before playing in the NIT. K-State’s crazy season, Pullen’s determination — the Wildcats have a few parallels with their in-state rivals from 1988.

Then there is Kemba Walker at UConn. A guy dragging his team across the finish line? Willing his team to win after win?

When Manning went on that 1988 run, people at the time were comparing him to Bird. Although Walker does not play in that same style, the way Manning did, the results are similar. He can get his shot whenever he wants it. If you’re trying to stop him at crunch time, there’s not much you can do.

He’s toying with them out there.

Did you see Walker during the Big East tournament? The way he seized the moment, it was Danny-esque.

They’re out there, this season.

At Xavier, Tu Holloway could announce himself to the national stage. He has Danny potential.

He scores tons because he needs to.

And at Arizona Derrick Williams is so good an opposing coach has accused him of getting Michael Jordan calls.

But to do what Manning did takes more than just being good on a team otherwise filled with backup dancers. It takes, well, as Oklahoma’s Stacey King said of Manning, after that final in 1988: “He wanted this one bad. He went an extra level higher.”

That’s what Manning did, on that tournament winning streak. In the final, he had 31 points and a career-high 18 rebounds.

“I can’t even express myself,” Brown said afterward.

This team? Did that? With Danny, they did.

Yeah, 23 years later, we can look at a handful of potential heirs and see it happening again. But it takes more than an all-time player on a transcendent streak. It takes more.

It takes miracles.

Those guys earned their moniker. They remain immortal, even if we can’t remember their names.