As a youngster growing up in Leavenworth, Wayne Simien dreamed of playing basketball at his beloved Kansas University.
His longing, however, did not extend to being named one of the top five players in the country.
"No ... that's pretty big-time, especially a kid coming from Leavenworth," Simien said Tuesday after being named preseason All-America by the Associated Press. "But being in Kansas, having an opportunity to play at such a great level competitively and play with such a great group of guys under a great coach ... that's definitely what got me there."
Simien, who was named third team All-America last postseason after averaging 17.8 points and 8.3 boards, was joined by sophomore Chris Paul of Wake Forest and three seniors -- North Carolina State's Julius Hodge, Mississippi State's Lawrence Roberts and Syracuse's Hakim Warrick -- on the AP team.
"To be considered one of the top five in all of college basketball, it's a great honor," Simien said, thanking, "my teammates, my coaches. Basketball is a team sport. Without these guys, I'd probably just be another player."
KU coach Bill Self says Simien is one special, deserving player. Simien is KU's first preseason All-American since Kirk Hinrich before the 2002-03 season.
"I don't think there's any doubt Wayne has earned it," Self said of Simien, who received 50 votes from a media panel compared to 55 for Paul, 50 for Roberts, 41 for Hodge and 33 for Warrick.
"Certainly we've said it before, with individuals and with the team, preseason awards really mean very little, but certainly it's probably more a tribute to what he's done in the past, how much effort he's put into it in the past."
The good news for KU fans is Simien hasn't rested on last year's laurels.
"I can honestly say I think he's our most improved player," Self said of the 6-foot-9, 255-pounder. "Hopefully he'll continue to build off of what he's already done."
Once his nagging groin injury healed early last summer, Simien went to work, traveling to various camps and working out with some NBA and college players.
Judging from KU's exhibition games in Canada in which he hit three of four three-pointers and Saturday's rout of Emporia State, in which he canned two of two threes, it appears Simien has extended his game well past the three-point mark.
It's believed he'll need to show those outside shooting skills to assure first-round status in the 2005 NBA Draft.
"It's something I've worked on," Simien said. "Coach is giving me different opportunities. He wants me to look for it a lot more. Coach gives me the green light ... I'll put it up."
Simien worked on his shooting and his body last summer. He's more toned than ever before.
"It's the best I've ever felt," Simien said. "I worked hard in the summer. My body feels great. My mind feels great."
His workouts were not designed solely to avoid an injury-free senior season.
"The only year I feel I was injured was my sophomore year," said Simien, who missed the first five games his freshman year following arthroscopic knee surgery and 22 games his sophomore season because of a shoulder dislocation. He missed only one game last season and could have played in that game if necessary; his groin injury bothered him more at practice than in actual games.
"The type of schedule we play, you'll be banged up some," Simien said. "I had some bruises. I played hard when I was out there. I feel great. I expect to have an injury-free year just like every player expects to have an injury free year."
And he hopes to have a mighty successful year.¢
Injury report: Junior center Moulaye Niang, who missed last week's practices with a high-ankle sprain, returned to practice Tuesday. The Jayhawks held a two-hour workout before the KU women's exhibition at Allen Fieldhouse.¢
Looking back: Jameer Nelson of Saint Joseph's and Emeka Okafor of Connecticut both were preseason and postseason All-Americans last year. The other players on the 2003-04 preseason team were Ricky Paulding of Missouri, Ike Diogu of Arizona State and Raymond Felton of North Carolina.