Rock Chalk Weekly: The Kansas Kid
Written by Andrew Ginzel, Kansas Athletic Communications Student Assistant
You can take the boy out of Kansas, but you can’t take Kansas out of the boy. This phrase is appropriate for Kansas basketball senior guard Evan Manning. Following in the footsteps of his father, mother and sister, the youngest Manning is set to leave his mark on the University of Kansas next May as he passes through the iconic Campanile on his way down the Hill.
Evan was born in Manhattan Beach, California, but his ties to Kansas have been undeniably strong his entire life. He is the son of Danny and Julie Manning, two KU alumnus. Danny Manning is well known by anyone close to the storied men’s basketball program. The elder Manning’s name sits atop the Kansas record book as the all-time leading scorer and rebounder for the Jayhawks. These sentiments provide an explanation for why Evan has had ties to Kansas since a child.
The Manning family moved from state-to-state more times in a few-year span than most families will in a lifetime. Danny was showcasing his talents in the National Basketball Association (NBA), which meant a lot of traveling was required for the entire family in order to stay together. From the time Evan was in first grade, the family moved once a year for four or five years in a row. Evan has experienced life in eight different states.
One location has always remained a constant for the Manning family: Lawrence, Kansas. The Mannings would return to Lawrence every summer because Danny would train with the Kansas basketball team during the offseason.
“We always had a home base in Lawrence,” Evan said. “We always had a spot to come back to during the summer when my dad would workout with the Kansas basketball team.”
Evan and his older sister, Taylor, would begin school at Sunflower Elementary School in Lawrence each fall. They would go to school for the first quarter and then move to the city that their father was playing in. They would finish school in that city and then move back to Lawrence at the beginning of summer.
“Lawrence has always been our home base and the community is a big part of how we were raised,” Evan said. “My sister and I have always cherished living here because it is a great place to raise a family.”
Taylor shares her brother’s connection with Lawrence.
“Lawrence has always been our conception of what it means to be home,” Taylor added. “All of our close friends lived there. Lawrence has always held a very special place in both of our hearts.”
Moving from state to state so rapidly and so often proved to be difficult on Evan. Forming a close friend base in a community he would only be a part of for a short time was tough. He acknowledged how thankful he was to have his sister by his side throughout his childhood. They were as close as siblings could be.
“She is my best friend,” Manning proclaimed of Taylor who graduated from KU in May 2015. “We have always had a tight bond because we didn’t have a close group of friends around.”
Taylor reiterated the sentiment when she said, “I feel the same way toward Evan, 150 percent. Evan was the one consistent friend that I’ve had my entire life. I can’t imagine growing up the way we did without having him to lean on. He’s my boy, I love him.”
Throughout all the moves around the country to be with their father, the Mannings’ ties to The Sunflower State were beginning to form and being around the rich tradition of the Kansas basketball program added to it. Many people would be delighted to move around as much as Manning has the pleasure of doing. Traveling became second nature and seeing new areas of the country was something he knew firsthand. However, Lawrence was the one place Evan always wanted to be.
He looked forward to coming “home” over the summers to catch up with his closest friends. Alvamar swimming pool was one of his top hangout destinations. Playing baseball with his buddies was his favorite memory of returning each summer.
Just like having a home base was important to the Mannings, family has always also been a top priority for Manning and his sister. They would spend time on their grandparents’ farm in Wellington, Kansas during harvest time. The farm offered the inseparable siblings a get away from the busy life they had become accustomed to knowing. They cherished the fond memories they made as they drove lawn mowers on the Kansas farmland during the harvest season.
“When we came back during the summertime we would get to see my grandfather’s wheat and sunflower fields,” Manning said. “We have always been Kansans at heart.”
Taylor added, “Our connections to family and how we perceive family is the most important thing in our lives.”
Whether Evan was getting his shoes muddy on his grandfather’s farm or lacing up his sneakers to be at practice with his father, his stomping grounds have always been on Kansas soil. Like many youths do, he played every sport that was offered to him, including baseball, basketball, soccer and tennis.
With his family finally living in Lawrence permanently at this particular stage in life, Evan decided to focus his attention solely on basketball. It was his seventh grade year that he hung up his football and baseball jerseys in exchange for his basketball one. With the guidance and wisdom from his father, he embarked on a basketball journey that brings him to the position he is in today.
“My father always told me that in order to be successful at something in life, I must put in the time each day,” Evan stated. “Hard work is something he always instilled in my sister and me.”
During his senior campaign at Free State High School, Evan averaged just over seven points per contest. His 2.4 steals per game led the Firebirds and he set a school record for takeaways in a season with 64.
As his playing days at Free State came to a conclusion, Evan quickly realized that he was unsure of what he wanted to do when he graduated. Upon graduating from Free State, he decided to move, once again, to New Hampshire to attend New Hampton Prep School. While attending the prep school, Evan continued to play basketball, the game he had grown to love over the years. Although basketball was his primary focus, the school’s strong academic program allowed him to increase his ACT score the lone year he was there.
Although living in New Hampshire was another great chapter in his storied book, Evan knew Lawrence was where his heart belonged.
“I’ve always loved Lawrence and being away was more difficult than I anticipated,” Evan confessed. “I had so many friends who began (college) at KU and I knew I was missing out on the tradition of the University. I knew it was something I wanted to get back to.”
Fortunately, the opportunity to return to Lawrence came fairly quickly for Evan, but a life-changing decision had to be made upon arrival. Kansas men’s basketball head coach Bill Self offered Evan a walk-on position prior to the 2012 season. However, his father, Danny, had just accepted his first head coaching position at the University of Tulsa after numerous years as an assistant on the Kansas staff. Evan was torn on the decision to play for his father at an unfamiliar school or sign with the Jayhawks and don the Crimson and Blue, a lifelong dream of his.
“It was a really hard decision,” Evan admitted. “My dad and I had numerous talks about the situation. One day my dad and I were in the Kansas locker room after a workout. Coach Self walked in and said, ‘I hear you might want to be a Jayhawk?’ and I said, ‘Yes sir.’ Coach Self responded with, ‘Well I know one guy who really wants you to be a Golden Hurricane (Tulsa).’ He knew it would be a great opportunity to play for my father, but I’ve always wanted to be a Jayhawk.'”
Taylor, Evan’s number one fan, knew that her brother’s decision was going to be a struggle for him. Their parents instilled in them that following your heart and doing what you have to do to accomplish your goals in life are the two most important things. She knew that Evan’s goal and objective was to be a part of the Kansas basketball program. He always wanted to share in that connection like the rest of her family has.
“When I think of the decision that he had to make, I thought it would have been awesome for him to play for our dad,” Taylor said. “However, I know where Evan’s heart has always been and I couldn’t imagine him being anywhere else than Kansas.
“Thinking about his decision to play at KU brings tears of joy to my eyes. He has always dreamt of playing at Kansas, he loves the University. When I think of Evan and the Kansas basketball program, I can’t think of a better fit for him. He bleeds KU basketball. It makes my heart warm knowing that he has the opportunity to play there. I am so happy knowing he is out there doing what he loves to do.”
Evan takes great pride in being a walk-on player for the basketball team. He has fully embraced his role of being a member of the team and he does anything he can to help them be successful. He describes his time at Kansas as being both challenging and rewarding because of the expectations that student-athletes are held to. Finding a balance between academics and sports is challenging to do, but the rewards are worth it. He credits his academic success to the full-time academic staff that is offered to the student-athletes.
“You’re expected to do so much as a student-athlete,” Evan said. “You’re here for school but you’re also here to be an athlete. Handling it can be difficult and I would not have been able to without the help from the academic staff. It is a challenge, but at the end of the day I hope this experience is something I look back upon and realize how much I’ve learned and grown as a person.”
Evan’s humbling personality is contagious and he projects positive energy everywhere he goes. His demeanor is one of which should be emulated by all students and athletes at the University. As a member of the basketball team, he is its number one fan. He is beyond grateful for his opportunity at Kansas as both a student and athlete, and that reflects back on the person he was brought up to be.
One of his favorite things about being a basketball player is the feeling he gets when he runs out of the tunnel into an electric, packed Allen Fieldhouse on game days. Prior to making the run out of the tunnel, Evan reflects on some of the sensational players that have taken the same path to the court before him. Some of his role models have taken part in that, some of which have laid down the foundation for success at the Kansas. Players such as Paul Pierce, Raef LaFrentz, Thomas Robinson and Andrew Wiggins have all run out of that tunnel onto the hardwood. Evan refers to that moment as being very humbling, to have the opportunity that those players who are so accomplished had as well.
“Running out of the tunnel still gives me goose bumps every game day,” Evan said. “It is such a humbling experience and I’m thankful for the opportunity.”
Being a Jayhawk was a lifelong dream of Evan’s. His admiration for Kansas and the Lawrence community is unmatched and he is a great ambassador for both. He understands the importance of respecting those who came before him and leaving a positive impact wherever he goes. His passion and leadership make him a valuable asset to the basketball team. Evan doesn’t play the game for the name on the back of his jersey, he embodies the spirit, heart and soul that it takes to play at KU and he plays for the name across his chest: Kansas.
“I think being a Jayhawk is the best feeling ever,” Evan said. “It means everything to me. The people of this community build around the University and that is such a cool thing to be a part of.”
Taylor agrees that Manning and Kansas are synonymous.
“Evan is a Kansas kid, through-and-through,” Taylor added. “He bleeds Kansas, he bleeds crimson and blue. He is a phenomenal human-being.”
No matter how many times he moves, how many states he lives in or where life’s journey decides to take him next, one thing will always remain consistent: Evan Manning was born to bleed Crimson and Blue.
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