Simien earns another honor

NBA-bound former Jayhawk wins Senior CLASS awards with ex-Wildcat Wecker

? Kansas University’s Wayne Simien and Kansas State’s Kendra Wecker hugged each other tightly in front of the dais before the start of Saturday’s Bayer Advantage Senior CLASS Award show at the Westin Crown Center.

The two native Kansans — male and female winners of the 2005 award for basketball players that stands for “Celebrating Loyalty and Achievement for Staying in School” — have become close friends the past four years. They first met at an all-state dinner in Topeka their senior years at Leavenworth and Marysville Highs.

“We were ‘Mr. and Miss Basketball’ in Kansas. I remember being intimidated. You don’t see a lot of big, strong guys like Wayne from the state of Kansas,” the 5-foot-11 Wecker said. “He’s a great guy and a great role model. We’ve both worked hard since high school. For us to both be here is really an honor.”

The two are the first Kansans to be presented the award — voted on nationwide by media members, coaches and fans — since its inception in 2001.

Previous men’s winners were Juan Dixon (Maryland), David West (Xavier) and Jameer Nelson (Saint Joseph’s).

Alana Beard (Duke), LaToya Thomas (Mississippi State) and Sue Bird (UConn) were the previous women’s winners.

“I first heard of Kendra when she won the ‘Punt, Pass and Kick Competition’ (mainly for boys) at Arrowhead Stadium,” the 6-9 Simien said of Wecker, who actually placed second in the 12-year-old class, beating all but one male by throwing a football 130 feet, punting 76-6 and placekicking 94-7 on Jan. 8, 1995.

“It was a big deal around here at the time. I definitely think she would beat me,” Simien added with a laugh. “My throwing arm isn’t that great. My kicking leg isn’t that great, either.”

Both athletes had great college careers, earning first-team All-America honors. The two are expected to have long pro careers.

Former Kansas University basketball player Wayne Simien speaks to the media about his Senior CLASS award. Simien was honored Saturday night at Crown Center in Kansas City, Mo.

Wecker, the fourth pick in the WNBA Draft, is taking part in training camp with the San Antonio Silver Stars and today will play in an exhibition game in Houston.

Simien, meanwhile, is preparing to hit the West Coast next week for his first one-on-one workouts with NBA teams in preparation for the June draft.

“It starts next week, city after city. It’s going to be a beast,” Simien said. “I’ll be on the West coast most of this month — all the California teams, everywhere.”

Not that he minds.

“It’s been a dream of mine. I’m glad it has a chance to be fulfilled,” said Simien, projected to be a first-round pick in the NBA Draft. “Pretty much the bulk of my busy schedule has been preparing for that as far as training, phone calls, things of that nature.”

He’s not getting fat and happy all the banquets he’s attended since the end of the season. Simien was a finalist for the Naismith Award (in St. Louis) and Wooden Award (in Los Angeles).

“I’ve been on a mean banquet circuit. As far as training, it’s not a problem at all. They actually want me to eat more, so I’m not turning anything down,” Simien said. “I don’t get tired of the food. I am a little worn out on suits and tuxedos.

“We’ve got a pretty big downstairs basement. My mom said we’re running out of room on the wall for all the plaques. It’s more stuff for my mom to dust. This will be the last one this year.”

This one may be his favorite honor of all.

Created by broadcaster Dick Enberg, who was in attendance Saturday, the award honors athletes who stay in school instead of bolting for the pros.

“It’s the thing that sets this one apart from the others,” said Simien, who spoke to 100 youths before the banquet about his education and the value of staying in school. “Not necessarily that it’s in Kansas City, but the type of thing it honors — education and finishing school.”

KU seniors Michael Lee and Aaron Miles also were introduced at the banquet and presented crystal clocks. KU senior Keith Langford had a prior commitment and was unable to attend.

Miles and Langford, who are possible second-round draft picks, each have had 1-1 workouts with the Houston Rockets. Miles is expected to visit the Golden State Warriors this week.

KU coach Bill Self, who introduced Simien, said he was not dismayed by the recent glut of high schoolers and underclassmen declaring for the draft that perhaps have pushed Simien down in the first round.

“In Wayne’s case, you are talking about talent, character and also being drafted more than likely by a pretty good team,” Self said. “A playoff team would be the type of team to look at him very favorably. A lot of teams that pick first are looking at the most or best potential (down the road). Wayne’s going to be a nice piece for a good team.”

As far as his own team, Self said he had spoken to his incoming freshmen Julian Wright, Micah Downs and Mario Chalmers, who all appear “solid” on attending school and are not expected to enter the draft.