Worthy to be considered among the many great Kansas players of the last 15 years is Wayne Simien. The 6’9″ forward from Leavenworth, a quick trip from Lawrence in the eastern part of the state, played four years with the Jayhawks before a brief NBA and European career.
A member of the high school class of 2001 and a McDonald’s All-American, Simien managed to average 15 minutes and eight points per game as a freshman on a team steeped in talent like Nick Collison, Kirk Hinrich, Drew Gooden and fellow freshman Keith Langford. The Jayhawks were brilliant, spending most of the season ranked either first or second in the country. After losing to OU in the conference title game, they still entered the tournament a No. 1 seed. They avenged the previous year’s elimination to Illinois in the Sweet Sixteen before falling to Maryland in the Final Four. (Maryland won it all.)Simien was set to play an expanded role as a sophomore on another excellent team. He averaged nearly 15 points and eight rebounds per game, but unfortunately dislocated his shoulder part of the way through the year and missed the rest of the season.
We’ve seen major injuries to key players on good teams before and after this (Robbie Hummel, Kenyon Martin, Curtis Sumpter, etc.) with varying results. Kansas, it turned out, was still a great team and lost to Syracuse in the championship game by three. It’s the best championship game I’ve ever watched, but Kansas fans surely wonder how things might have been different with a healthy roster. (The parallel between this injury and the mid-season knee injury to Kentucky’s Derek Anderson in 1997 is striking in that both teams barely lost in the championship game.)
For Simien’s junior year, Bill Self replaced Roy Williams as coach and Simien averaged nearly 18 points and ten rebounds per game. But the Jayhawks were less talented than before, and entered the tournament 21-8. (Side note: They won the last game ever played at Missouri’s old arena, the Hearnes Center.) Still, they reached the Elite Eight before losing to Georgia Tech.
Simien was awesome as a senior. He averaged a double-double (20 and 11), was the Big 12 Player of the Year and a first-team All-American. Kansas won its first 14 games on the way to a 23-6 record entering the Big Dance. Simien won’t want to remember anything after that however, as KU was memorably shocked in the first round by Bucknell, 64-63.
Simply put, Simien’s pro career does not reflect how good he was in college. He played briefly for the Miami Heat, earning a championship ring for the Heat’s 2006 title season, but collected limited playing time. After getting traded to and then cut by the Timberwolves, he played in Spain for a year. He retired last year, and according to a feature in the Lawrence Journal-World, is pursuing a career as a minister.
LEAVING HIS MARK: Wayne Simien scored 1,593 points at Kansas. He was 12th on the school’s all-time list when he left Lawrence.