Special Olympians Give the Big 12 Champs a Lift

Bill Self with Big 12 Special Olympics Athlete of the Year Cody Pierce (Pittsburg, Kan.).

LAWRENCE, Kan. – Ending an 18-game conference schedule as the regular-season champions for the 12th consecutive season can be exhausting. Kansas men’s basketball found a reprieve from the daily grind and expectations of being the No. 1-ranked team in the nation when they hosted approximately 100 Special Olympians at the 32nd Annual Wilt Chamberlain Special Olympics Clinic Sunday afternoon inside historic Allen Fieldhouse.

Ten teams from Special Olympics Kansas spent more than two hours with their college hoops heroes as the goals were lowered in Allen Fieldhouse. Following a group stretch, the clinicians broke up into their teams and rotated among stations such as ball handling, layups, free throws and dunks. The clinic concluded with the Jayhawks signing autographs for the Special Olympians.

“This clinic is not a have-to, this is a want-to,” Kansas head coach Bill Self explained. “I told our team after the game yesterday, ‘let’s kind of forget about ball for a day.’ Our returners get so excited for this event and they tell our newcomers how much fun this. This is a good day for us.”

The annual Special Olympics clinic began in 1984 by former Kansas men’s basketball head coach Larry Brown. It was then renamed for KU legend Wilt Chamberlain, who left money from his estate to sustain the program.

“This is awesome,” KU junior Landen Lucas said. “I’ve been doing it for a couple years now and each year it never gets old. We learn so much from seeing these Olympians. Everyone is so happy to be here, and it is encouraging for us because it gives us an emotional burst of energy.”

Teams from all across the state of Kansas participated in the 2015 event. They included: the Douglas County Jayhawks (Lawrence), Midwest Wildfires (Ottawa), Leavenworth, Olathe, Blue Valley, Lakemary (Paola), Topeka/Shawnee, Wichita Jayhawks & Mustangs, Air Capital Flyers (Wichita), and New Hope (Pittsburg). Included on the New Hope team is Cody Pierce the 2016 Big 12 Conference Male Special Olympian of the Year who will be honored later this week at the Big 12 Championship in Kansas City.

No. 1 Kansas (27-4, 15-3 Big 12) will be the No. 1 seed in this week’s Phillips 66 Big 12 Championship at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri. Kansas will face the winner of No. 8 seed Kansas State and No. 9 seed Oklahoma State on Thursday at 1:30 p.m. Central time on ESPN2.

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