Tom Keegan: Sporting KC’s Seth Sinovic a Jayhawk basketball fan for life

Sporting Kansas City's Seth Sinovic, left, moves the ball past Orlando City's Scott Sutter during the first half of an MLS soccer game, Saturday, May 13, 2017, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

Kansas City, Kan. — The romantic notion that professional athletes play kids’ games and don’t realize that the rest of us would be happy to play for free is a load of hogwash, of course.

They play the same game they played as kids, but play it against the most talented, well-conditioned, well-drilled athletes in the world. The supply of newcomers trying to steal their jobs never relents. Dare they have the audacity to lose, their failures are subject to history’s most powerful magnifying glass, otherwise known as social media.

Yet, take those professional athletes away from the sports at which they make their livings and turn them into spectators, and the child in them so often bubbles back to the surface.

Seth Sinovic, a nine-year veteran of Major League Soccer, attended many a Kansas basketball game at Allen Fieldhouse from the age of 5 on. He was taken there by his grandfather. Later, he became a soccer star at Rockhurst High, enrolled at Creighton as a walk-on, worked his way into a scholarship and is entering his eighth season with Sporting KC.

He follows Creighton basketball and discusses the ups and downs with his college buddies, but his passion for his alma mater’s quality program doesn’t approach that of how he feels about his first hoops love.

“My favorite (KU) player of all time?” Sinovic said, repeating a question put to him at Children’s Mercy Park. “Probably Russell Robinson. I’m a big proponent of the guys who aren’t the big flashy guys, the guys who do the hard work and are kind of the team leaders. And that’s kind of the type of player I saw him as. I always really enjoyed him.”

It figures Sinovic, 30, would appreciate a player whose value extended beyond measurable contributions. That’s his style, as well. A defender, he has started in all but six of his 202 appearances.

“I think although sometimes he doesn’t come off this way on the outside, he’s one of the most competitive people that I know,” said Sporting KC team captain Matt Besler, a teammate of Sinovic’s as early as second grade. “It seems like every year there’s a new guy who comes in and is challenging for that left back spot, and at the end of the day, Seth just ends up playing there. He’s a smart player. He’s reliable. He’s a good player.”

Besler just as easily could have been describing Russell Robinson or another of Sinovic’s favorite Jayhawks, Landen Lucas.

“He’s awesome,” Sinovic said of Lucas. “He’s the guy who does everything he’s supposed to do. A lot of times there are opportunities for guys to play outside of what they do. He did what he was supposed to do and did it at a very high level, and I think that’s part of the reason why KU was so successful last year.”

The next guy was always going to be better than Lucas, except that he wasn’t.

“Whatever players who might have had higher ceilings brought in to step in for him, he always seemed to battle through and make himself a presence on the floor,” Sinovic said. “Kirk Hinrich was another I liked watching. Nick Collison. I really liked that team, but Russell Robinson’s probably my favorite. He always seemed to make big plays in crunch time, too.”

The preseason sends Sporting KC out of town for five weeks, which means Sinovic might not get to see KU live again this season.

“I’ve been to three games this year, and for the first time in my life, I can say I’m probably going to have a losing record (as a KU spectator),” said Sinovic, native of Leawood and brother to KCTV 5 reporter Emily Sinovic. “I went to the Washington game at Sprint Center. I went to the Texas Tech game at home and then I went to Iowa State, which was another close one.”

Sinovic heard news of Billy Preston signing with a professional team in Bosnia shortly after it broke.

“Like everybody, I was waiting to see what they’d look like if Billy Preston was going to be available. But, hopefully, some clarity to the lineup and everything will help them kind of solidify things. I think they’re improving as they go along,” he said. “Winning at West Virginia was huge. We never seem to play well at West Virginia, always seems to be a tough game. So that was a huge win.”

He’s bullish on KU’s future.

“They seem to be getting a little grittier, a little better defensively, and I think that’s going to pay dividends,” Sinovic said.

Gritty defense has served both Sinovic and his favorite college basketball team well through the years.