Wayne Simien 'Called to Greatness' after hoops





It would be easy to see why Wayne Simien might recall a state basketball championship as one of his special accomplishments on the court.

Of course, it would be likely that four NCAA Tournament appearances, two Final Fours (including a runner-up finish to Syracuse in 2003) would also be among the highlights for Simien.

Lastly, an NBA Championship in his rookie season might well be at the top of his chart for his list of achievements.

Those, and more, are part of the legacy that Simien, now age 31 and retired five years from professional basketball, has established as one of the most famous and beloved University of Kansas Jayhawk basketball players.

Today, though, the Class 6A state title he won at Leavenworth in 2000, Big 12 championships at the University of Kansas, culminating with an NBA World Championship ring in 2006 with the Miami Heat as a rookie, all pale in comparison to the single most important part of Simien's life.

That would be his strong faith in Jesus Christ.

Following that rookie season, Simien developed a salmonella infection that limited him to just eight games in the 2006-2007 season. He was then traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves, who eventually waived him. He found his way to Spain where he played in the European League for two seasons before calling it quits to enter full-time ministry.

The result has been the creation of an organization, "Called to Greatness," which has its headquarters in Lawrence, where Simien and his wife, Katie, are the proud parents of five children, two girls and three boys ranging in ages from 3 months to 6 years.

Simien's appearance in Garden City on Wednesday and Thursday was to lead one of his eight summer basketball camps across Kansas. Approximately 45 campers attended the two-day camp at Horace Good Middle School's gym.

"We use the basketball camps to harness the influence of athletics and my background to work with young people to live the life of greatness through Jesus Christ," Simien said in an interview at the end of his two-day camp. "I became a Christian in 2003, and that was my junior season (at KU) and it was transformational for me, not only in my life but in my ability to reach out to college students."

Simien said at a time when he had the basketball world in his hands (he was the Big 12 Player of the Year in 2005), his life was not quite as smooth as it would have appeared.

"More at a time when the world thought I should be happy, I was feeling empty and purposeless," Simien said. "One day, a campus minister met me outside class and shared his faith with me. He showed me the love of God and what was truly worth living for."

Simien said just because there are the accolades that come with success in the world of athletics, that doesn't translate into personal happiness.

"The opportunity to go to Spain was a blessing," Simien said. "Katie had lived there before, and we had a chance to really discover our faith there. We started Called to Greatness then, and we've become passionate about it."

There are CTG groups located on the campuses of the University of Kansas, Kansas State University, University of Nebraska, University of Missouri-Kansas City and Baker University in Baldwin. Simien would like to see that growth expanded around the country.

A staff of more than 40 coordinates the three different phases of the organization's ministry — Youth, Campus and Athletic.

"We try to reach any and all college students that we can," Simien said. "That's what has brought us out to Garden City. We've met some outstanding young people from here, Sublette and Scott City, and we want to build off that momentum by coming here."

Former Garden City High School athlete Brennan Keller has coordinated the local camp for Simien while ex-GCHS standout Bo Banner, a Kansas State University student, also helped with the camp.

"We just try to go off the theme of our name and that is everybody at some capacity has greatness in them," Simien said. "Greatness just isn't the success in athletics. It's the individual being the greatest he or she can be while living the life that Christ would want for them. You want to follow Him and be like Him."

Simien said he has been fortunate and blessed with his life, citing that he loves the state of Kansas and likes traveling to camps in Sabetha, Hutchinson, Great Bend, Osawatomie and Wichita in addition to the one in Garden City and two in Lawrence.

"What I've learned through athletics is that teamwork is the key to success," Simien said. "Anything of significance in a team setting usually leads to success. You can have the same success in your work career, in your family relationships and the friendships you make. It's a dynamic function and great things happen when you're working within the team concept."

When talking about his basketball career highlights, Simien pointed to the NBA title as perhaps at the top of his list.

"Anytime you win something at the highest level there is, it's an incredible experience," Simien said. "The value of everything I learned and experienced at KU was important for me as well. I loved KU as a kid, and wouldn't trade my experience there for anything."

Simien said he was impressed with the continued legacy of greatness within the KU men's basketball program, one that has won outright or shared each of the last 10 Big 12 championships.

"I was fortunate to have played a part in that, and now I can watch it continue to excel," Simien said. "It's not the norm for most programs. To have success, you have to work hard. At Kansas, the DNA of that is in the coaches, in the players, and it is expected from the fan base."

Simien said he would always remember the Feb. 27, 2005, game in Allen Fieldhouse against Oklahoma State. The teams were locked in a battle with Oklahoma for the top spot in the Big 12 and on Senior Night, the 6-9 power forward came up huge with a 31-point, 14-rebound performance in a dramatic 81-79 KU victory. The Jayhawks eventually shared the conference crown with OU, with the Cowboys finishing one game behind.

"Making the last shot, winning game and that helped the start of the streak (10 straight Big 12 titles) is something I'll always remember," Simien said. "It was one of the biggest games we played because they (Oklahoma State) had beaten us the year before. With the help of my teammates and great coaches, I was fortunate to be named player of the year."

When Thursday's camp came to an end, Simien and some of his crew were gathering equipment and supplies, loading them into his van for the five-hour trip back to Lawrence.

"Time to get home to the family and see those kids," Simien said with a big smile.

That's where his priorities in life now rest — God, family and then athletics.

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