No Kansas high school graduate has ever made a splash quite like Danny Manning.
Manning, a former Kansas University All-American who graduated from Lawrence High, was picked in the first round of the 1988 NBA Draft by the Los Angeles Clippers and has spent the last 13 seasons in the NBA.
Now along comes Leavenworth High graduate and current KU sophomore Wayne Simien, who hopes to follow in Manning's footsteps and become one of the rare Kansas products to reach the next level.
Having Memphis Grizzlies forward Drew Gooden as a role model last year didn't hurt.
"Being able to play behind Drew and Nick (Collison) last year really helped me," Simien said. "I think that's really going to help me this year, stepping up and playing more of a role and contribute a lot more than just a few minutes or when someone got in foul trouble or was tired."
As a freshman, Simien averaged 8.1 points and 5.3 rebounds in 15 minutes per game. His production is expected to increase this year when he takes Gooden's spot in the starting lineup.
"It's going to be pretty tough with the big hole he left," Simien said. "The expectations are going to be high, but I'm just going to go out there and try to play my game and not try to replace him but just play to the best of my ability."
Playing to that level could help put Kansas back in the Final Four. Last March's loss to Maryland left Simien hungry for another opportunity.
"There's no way you can forget about it, being so close last year," Simien said. "It's something I expected Â it was all part of the plan Â but it was mind-boggling to go from playing in a small high school gym in Kansas to going out and playing in front of 80,000 people in the Georgia Dome."
Having teammates such as Jeff Hawkins, Brett Ballard, Lewis Harrison, Todd Kappelmann and Chris Zerbe from Kansas high schools made the transition from the Sunflower League to the NCAA Tournament easier for Simien.
"The rest of the team comes from the all over the country," Simien said, "so it's good to have some guys you can relate with. Guys come from all over and bring all kinds of personalities to the team and that's nice, but it's good to have someone you can relate to when it comes to being around home."
Four of those six Kansans were seniors last year, but Lawrence High's Stephen Vinson has joined Simien and Hawkins on the Kansas roster this season.
"Steve and I played against each other for awhile in high school," Simien said, "and it's nice to have someone around to talk about old high school times with, coming from the same area. I'm definitely looking forward to playing with him the next few years."
Although Hawkins played at Class 4A Kansas City Sumner, he also has a history with his fellow Kansans.
"Wayne and I played AAU ball and we already had a good friendship," Hawkins said, "and I've known Stephen because we played on a camp team three or four years ago. He told me he was coming here his junior year Â he told me not to tell anybody Â so I already knew that. It's good to have that connection with Kansas people."
Playing at a university about 40 miles from home also gives Simien the opportunity both to work out at home and take college classes during the summer. It also allows his parents, Wayne Sr. and Margaret, to see him in every home game.
"It's real nice, definitely for my parents to be able to make it to all the games," Simien said. "Coming from this area, a lot of people know me off the court. Not having a lot of guys from Kansas who can be here on scholarship and play a lot of minutes and be able to assume the role I do, and it's real important to me and I try to go out and make everyone proud."Â
ESPN's Jay Bilas was in town Monday working on a report on how some of the most successful college coaches in the country run practice.