Simien's Jersey Joins Elite Company
Feb. 4, 2011
LAWRENCE, Kan. –
As the spotlights point to the rafters and the banner with his name and number is revealed, former Kansas basketball player Wayne Simien will join an elite group of men and women with retired jerseys in Allen Fieldhouse. While his jersey will be the only name on that banner, Simien will be the first to tell you that he did not earn that honor by himself. Instead, the 2005 NCAA All-American will praise all of the people who made his outstanding achievements possible.
“I don’t consider this to be an individual accomplishment because I didn’t get here on my own,” Simien said. “I just want to share this experience with as many people as I can and use it as an opportunity to show my gratitude towards all that they have done for my family and I.”
Simien grew up a Kansas fan and worked hard during his high school years in his hometown of Leavenworth in order to become a Jayhawk. Although several other schools were vying for his basketball talent, Kansas was the only one with a fighting chance. When it was time for Simien to choose a school, he jumped at the chance to fulfill a childhood dream.
“It’s funny because the recruiting process wasn’t really much of a recruiting process at all for me,” Simien said. “Once they started to show some interest and I had an opportunity to commit to playing here, I jumped on it right away. It was just a matter of me waiting and working to have an opportunity to play here.”
Even his main influences during the recruiting process had Kansas ties. Simien’s Leavenworth High School coach was a KU graduate. Then when former Kansas assistant coach Neil Dougherty began recruiting Simien, they connected immediately because Dougherty was also from Leavenworth and had played for Simien’s same high school coach. These three became a great web of support for Simien’s rise to collegiate greatness.
“It’s crazy because those three guys that were all instrumental in stages of my life were all KU guys, so that was tough to get around,” Simien said with a smile.
Upon arrival for the 2001-02 season, Simien knew his time at KU would not disappoint, saying his time under former head coach Roy Williams was “everything I thought it would be.” Unfortunately, his time under Williams became marred by a season-ending shoulder injury during his sophomore year and Simien was forced to watch the team fall in the 2003 National Championship game to Syracuse, 81-78.
“That championship game was really difficult to watch from the sidelines at the end of bench with my arm in a sling,” Simien said. “I wanted to help the team, but couldn’t. That was a difficult time for me. I can remember forcing myself to watch Syracuse celebrate after the game just hoping that would fuel me to want to do everything I could to get back there.”
It then got even more difficult for Simien when Williams left the Kansas program at the end of the 2002-03 season to coach at North Carolina. That web of support that Simien had grown close to was now ripped away from the KU forward.
“It was a really difficult time for me,” Simien said. “My relationship with (Williams) and that staff had gone far longer than just those two years that I played for him.”
Sadness was eventually replaced by excitement as former Illinois coach Bill Self was named as Williams’ successor. Although he said it took awhile for the team to adjust to the new coach and his style, Simien found a fresh support group in the new staff to support and teach him.
“It’s one thing to come into a program that hasn’t been successful, but he (Self) probably had the toughest job ever those first two years, inheriting a program that had had a ton of success,” Simien, who averaged 20.3 points and 11 rebounds his senior season, said. “It was a tough transition as far as the whole team buying in, but he was an incredible coach to us and obviously won our confidence and trust. Seeing what he’s done the last seven-plus years definitely shows that he was the perfect man for the job.”
After his senior season, Simien became KU’s 20th first round NBA draft pick as he was drafted to the Miami Heat in 2005. While he called the NBA an “incredible experience” and won a World Championship while with the Heat, Simien’s heart still remained in Kansas.
“Quite honestly if I could’ve kept playing at Kansas, I definitely would have,” Simien said. “It’s so funny because so many Kansas players that have a chance to go on all come back and say the same thing; that this is the best time of your life. This is the most fun you’ll have playing basketball, these will be the best fans and coaches that you play for, and it really was true. I really enjoyed my time professionally, but I’m going to have to agree with those guys when I say that by far the best basketball experience that I had was while wearing a Kansas jersey.”
After a stint in Spain, Simien happily returned with his family to make Lawrence their permanent home. Now as a member of the full-time ministry, the former Jayhawk jumped on the opportunity to become a mentor for the Kansas basketball team, just like the many at KU who had been there for him. Because Simien experienced many of the same things as the current bunch of players, he can offer support and advice for the student-athletes.
“Having been exactly where they are, facing some of the same ups and downs they’re facing, and also having an opportunity to be where some of them hope to be—playing professionally, I am able to mentor and help them along in that capacity,” Simien said. “Then eventually I can help with where all of them will be one day when basketball is over with—when they are men, they are husbands, they are fathers. I am able to work and mentor which is exactly what I had hoped to do.”
Though Simien now spends his time giving back to the university he loves, it is time for the people of KU to show their appreciation for his contributions by acknowledging his achievements with a jersey retirement celebration. While this might be a time to celebrate his accomplishments, Simien is instead spending the time leading up to the ceremony to thank all those people who supported him along the way.
“As the date draws closer, I’ve made it a point to call former coaches and teammates personally and thank them for helping me achieve this,” Simien said. “It’s pretty indescribable. I can remember coming here, never with the intention of wanting to have my jersey retired. I was just excited to play here. It’s just pretty amazing to now have that opportunity to see my name in the midst of Wilt Chamberlain, Paul Pierce and Danny Manning—all the greats that I grew up watching.”