Wayne Simien today receives the highest honor that can be bestowed on a Kansas University basketball player.
His jersey No. 23 will be hoisted high in the Allen Fieldhouse rafters at halftime of the 6 p.m. KU-Kansas State game, making him the 26th player in KU history to have been so recognized.
“I didn’t ever think this day would come. It was never really a goal of mine to have my jersey placed up there among the KU greats,” said former Leavenworth High standout Simien. The consensus first-team All-American ranks 12th all-time at KU in scoring, seventh in rebounding and fourth in double-doubles.
He led the Jayhawks to a 110-28 record from 2002-05, winning three Big 12 titles while reaching two Final Fours and an Elite Eight.
“I was always content with being part of this great Kansas basketball tradition, being a part of Big 12 championship teams and Final Four teams. It’s great to have this type of award come back to you when your focus has always been on the team first,” Simien added.
Simien — who lives in Lawrence serving his Called to Greatness ministry as well as working as a mentor to athletes in all sports at KU and basketball team chaplain — has spent the past several days on the phone.
“Talking to three guys who are already up there — Nick (Collison), Drew (Gooden) and Kirk (Hinrich),” Simien said. “I had a great conversation with Danny (Manning) on the way back from Lisa Robinson’s funeral (in Washington, D.C.)
“I talked to Tim Jankovich and coach (Roy) Williams and coach (Neil) Dougherty, trying to thank everyone who has helped me achieve this honor.
“Growing up, I remember (Wichita’s) Darnell Valentine, one of the original Kansas guys, who I am going to call later this evening. I thank him for paving the way. Guys who come from Kansas have a fond appreciation for all things Kansas basketball. To have an opportunity to have a jersey up there is a tremendous experience.”
Simien — he credits his “transformation in becoming a Christian and follower of Jesus Christ” as being pivotal in his development as a player and person — said he hasn’t worked on his halftime speech yet.
“It definitely won’t be as long as my Senior Night speech,” he cracked. “They’ll have the clock running. I’ll have 3-4 minutes. I won’t have much to say, but it’s definitely going to be meaningful what I do say, I believe,” added Simien, who said it’s also a special day with KU playing K-State and his son turning 1 year old.
KU’s players and coaches are mighty happy for Simien.
“Wayne is probably the best collegiate player I’ve coached, ever,” KU coach Bill Self said. “How about getting your jersey hung or your name hung up in the rafters growing up 20 minutes down the road? It will be an extremely special day for Wayne, and well-deserved.”
Noted Burlington senior Tyrel Reed: “I grew up watching him. He’s a Kansas kid who just accomplished great things. Whenever he caught it on the block, it was an automatic two points. He’s an even greater person.”
Added Lawrence senior Brady Morningstar: “People have been waiting for this for a while because as a player he was so productive and efficient. Everybody loved him. I think people knew this day was coming, but they are glad to see it.”
Noted Hoboken, N.J., junior Tyshawn Taylor: “I think it’ll be emotional for him, but I think he’s happy and probably will be like, ‘It’s about time.’’’
Taylor said Simien has been steady and supportive following last Friday’s death of Thomas Robinson’s mom.
“Wayne has been there for us, praying a lot for us, telling us some stuff. Having somebody like that there for us is definitely good,” Taylor said.
Simien said he’s had the “opportunity to speak with Thomas a few times before he went to D.C. (for funeral) and while out there. During the time it’s been appropriate to speak with him, I’ve tried to share some words with him and will continue to try to support and encourage him.”