Former forward Wayne Simien was one of the most successful players for the Kansas basketball program in the early 2000s. Under former Kansas coach Roy Williams, Simien was a part of the 2001-02 Kansas team that made it to the Final Four. It was a freshman campaign where he averaged 8.1 points and 5.3 rebounds.
Simien, an ESPN top-20 power forward recruit from Leavenworth, saw an increase in minutes his sophomore season and began to flourish.
He averaged 14.8 points, 8.2 rebounds and shot 64 percent from the field. Kansas finished 30-8 overall and 14-2 in the Big 12, but the team lost to Syracuse, 81-78, in the NCAA tournament's championship game.
One of 32 Jayhawks with a jersey retired in Allen Fieldhouse, Drew Gooden garnered many awards as a forward. The former National Player of the Year played under Roy Williams from 2000-02.
In the 2003-04 season, the Jayhawks saw a change in coaching when current coach Bill Self took over. Simien’s best seasons came under Self.
But several Jayhawks, Simien included, weren't ready for change.
"Of course, I didn’t know him," Simien said of Self to Athlon Sports. "Coming off a tremendous amount of success with coach Williams, back-to-back Big 12 championships, back-to-back Final Fours, it’s one of those things were if it isn’t broke, why fix it. Why do we have [to] do things different? It was pretty jarring at first. Quickly we came to realize that he’s great coach and that he does care about his players. It was an honor to play for two Hall of Fame coaches and usher in a new generation of KU basketball which is still being played at a high level."
As a junior, he averaged 17.8 points, 9.3 rebounds and improved his free throw percentage from 67 percent the previous season to 81 percent in 2003-04. Kansas finished 24-9 overall and 12-4 in the Big 12 before being ousted by Georgia Tech, 79-71, in the Elite Eight.
Simien's best campaign as a Jayhawk came in his senior season, when he averaged career highs in points (20.3) and rebounds (11.0). He was named the Big 12 Player of the Year and a first-team All-American, but Kansas was bounced out of the first round of the NCAA tournament as a No. 3 seed by No. 14 Bucknell.
Simien currently ranks 15th all-time in points (1,593) in Kansas basketball history. Kansas retired his jersey on Jan. 29, 2011.
“When I discovered my jersey was going to be retired I was overwhelmed with thankfulness,” Simien said. “Coaches, teammates, family and fans all played a part in helping me to experience an honor of that magnitude.”
After graduating, Simien was drafted No. 29 overall by the Miami Heat in the 2005 NBA Draft. He was a part of the NBA Finals championship Heat team in 2006, and averaged 3.3 points and 1.9 rebounds in two NBA seasons.
Simien has once again made Lawrence his home, and he is currently serving as a campus director for Called to Greatness, a campus ministry at the University.
“I attribute the biggest impact on my success at KU to my relationship with Jesus Christ,” Simien said. “After reaching a place of having everything that should make you happy as a student athlete, I was desperately looking for something greater to live for than myself and basketball. Through a campus ministry I was introduced to the life, teachings and purposes of Jesus which transformed every part of my life.”
Simien was inducted into the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame in 2012.
— Edited by Omar Sanchez