Chosen in the first round the previous night by the Miami Heat, Wayne Simien was on his way to a Florida Marlins baseball game when his cell phone rang. Shaquille O’Neal was on the other line.
“It was pretty cool that he would call me out of the blue like that,” Simien said. “I had just heard my name called by commissioner David Stern, and the next thing you know, I had Shaquille O’Neal calling me to come over to his house. I grew up wearing a No. 33 Orlando Magic jersey, listening to his rap CDs.”
So much for the Marlins game. The car did an about-face and headed for Shaq’s place. The Kansas kid had entered the world of the rich and famous.
What’s Shaq like?
“He’s a huge personality,” Simien said of his former teammate. “A lot of people are telling me they enjoy his show ‘Shaq Vs.’ What you see on that is what you get. Big kid. Lot of fun. Always cutting jokes, pulling pranks, especially on the rookies. And then when he gets in the paint, he’s all business.”
Simien was to the college game what Shaq was to the NBA. A third-team Associated Press All-American as a junior and a first-team pick as a senior, Simien averaged 20.3 points and 11 rebounds per game as a senior.
In two seasons with the Heat, Simien played in 51 games, started two games and never established himself as an NBA player after earning $1.8 million in two seasons.
But to feel sorry for Simien for not making it is not to get his essence. Simien never viewed NBA stardom as his ultimate calling. He had higher aspirations, and he’s living them now with his Called to Greatness ministry, wherein he uses basketball as a carrot to help underprivileged youth walk down the right path.
This week, Simien is helping to generate support for The Family Promise of Lawrence Golf Tournament. He and Cindy Self are tournament co-chairs. The auction party starts at 5 p.m. today at Alvamar Country Club, and the live auction begins at 7 p.m. Non-golfers can attend the auction for $25. The golf tourney, Monday at Alvamar private, starts with a noon registration. For more information, visit Lawrencefamilypromise.org or call Joe Reitz at 331-5024. Family Promise helps homeless families with children seek ways to find employment and housing. It started with eight congregations participating in November, 2008, and now has 34, Reitz said.
“Any time you can help families and kids, it’s definitely a treat,” Simien said. “In a pretty affluent community like Lawrence, a lot of people don’t realize a lot of less fortunate families with young children don’t have a place to sleep. It’s great to see a community come together to help out.”