Lucious Wagner, who played alongside Wayne Simien on Leavenworth High's 2000 Kansas Class 6A state championship basketball team, has since followed his buddy's college and pro career closely.
"It's a lot easier to keep track of him since he's on TV a lot," former University of Evansville standout Wagner said.
Wagner, who played pro ball in the Czech Republic last season, has cheered Big Dub's accomplishments (Simien is Kansas University's No. 7 rebounder and No. 12 scorer of all-time and a first-round 2005 draft pick of the Miami Heat) and jeered his many physical setbacks.
"Wayne has had bad luck for a long time," Wagner said Tuesday at Simien's "Called to Greatness" youth basketball camp at Free State High. "Every time he gets going, something else happens. He's a great guy and bad things keep happening to him, but he always seems to work through them. That's why I look up to him."
Simien - he had knee and shoulder problems at KU - played in 43 games his rookie season with the Heat, but just eight games in '06-07 when he was hit hard by salmonella poisoning. Simien sat out last season after getting traded to, and immediately released by, Minnesota. Simien was paid all season while rehabbing a surgically repaired knee.
Most recently, Simien tweaked his hamstring at Atlanta Hawks minicamp, but after missing summer league still was invited to the Hawks' veteran camp this fall.
"I think I have a legitimate shot to make that roster," said Simien, who shrugged off the hamstring pull as a minor setback.
Simien, in fact, was in great spirits on Tuesday, touched by a good turnout - 45 girls and 120 boys - for the first session of his first-annual camp.
The three-day camp, as outlined on his Web site iamctg.org, combines basketball instruction and scrimmaging with life lessons.
A nonprofit camp, all proceeds go back into Simien's Called To Greatness program.
"We have breakdown times where we share different things with the campers, ministry time," Simien said. "Today we talked about the definition of greatness, not just being wrapped up in your accomplishments, but being great in what God calls you to be and who he says you are."
Simien's personal trainer, Doug Hix, flew in from California to speak to the youths about "feeding your body nutritionally and also feeding your spirit," Simien noted.
"Those are things we'll be touching on these three days. We've got great response from the kids and their parents. They are really enjoying it."
Simien, who lives with his wife, Katherine, and daughter, Selah, in Lawrence (another baby is on the way) on Tuesday explained his passion for not only basketball, but his faith. He said his life was changed for the better after his sophomore year at KU. He'll never forget the circumstances.
"I'll be plain with you. I was a jerk," Simien said. "I was an arrogant, self-centered, adulterous guy. As a college student I had everything that the world says there is to make you happy. I had the fame. I had an NBA contract waiting for me. I had all the drugs and alcohol and girls available to me. I was really looking for something greater to live for, because those things didn't fulfill me. I found out in living for the kingdom of God. I saw the life of Jesus Christ and how he was able to impact so many people in the things he did. I wanted to do my best to try to have my life have that same kind of effect.
"When God came in my life going into my junior year, he completely changed me from the inside out. My life ... Jesus Christ gets all the credit and glory for the man I am today."
Wagner said that man is almost too good to be true.
"Wayne is probably a better guy than most people realize," said Wagner, who is working as an instructor at the camp. "A lot of guys in the NBA get bad reps. Wayne is definitely the opposite of anything you would think negatively about the NBA. Hopefully we both can play basketball a long time and just grow old," Wagner added with a laugh.
"I'll keep going (in basketball) until I can't go any more," Simien declared.