Wayne Simien - Called to Greatness

April 2, 2015 by Gary Heise

The word “greatness” has surrounded Wayne Simien for most of his life. First, as a basketball player. Now, his life is focused on it.

It’s hard to believe that a decade has passed since the University of Kansas star finished his fabulous career with the Jayhawks, culminating with his selection as the Senior CLASS Award recipient for 2005.

I remember, as if it were yesterday, escorting Wayne to the CBS in-arena studio desk at the 2005 Final Four in St. Louis to be announced as the award winner and then interviewed by Dick Enberg and Greg Gumble live between semi-final games.

Wayne flew on a red-eye flight from a charity appearance to make the trip to St. Louis. That pretty much summed up who he was as a student-athlete. And why he was the fourth recipient of the award that honors the 4 C’s of competition, classroom, community and character.

On the court, the McDonald’s High School All-American from Leavenworth, Kansas became a home-state hero. He led KU to a 110-28 record over four years, three conference titles and two Final Fours plus an Elite Eight. Although he had an opportunity to leave KU after his junior year for the NBA, Simien decided to return for his senior year and promptly earned Big 12 Player of the Year honors and First Team All-American.

“My senior season was a great culmination of a rich college experience,” Simien said. “I wanted to come back to graduate, to compete for the University of Kansas, play for a great coach and enjoy my teammates. It’s a decision I’ve never regretted.”

A few years late - in 2011 - Simien’s #23 jersey was retired at KU. During the ceremony, Coach Bill Self called him “the best collegiate player I’ve coached, ever.”

His greatness at Kansas sent him to the next level. Simien was a first-round draft pick of the Miami Heat in 2005. He played two seasons for the Heat and won an NBA championship his second year. “That fulfilled a childhood dream,” Simien said.

But something even greater was calling him. Simien’s life goals were more about pouring himself into people. Making a difference in lives.

He returned to Lawrence and, along with his wife Katie, started a non-profit ministry with a mission to help young people discover, build, and start living a life of greatness. The ministry’s name should come as no surprise: Called to Greatness.

It’s a chance for Simien to return to the place that he loved - the college campus - and specifically at KU. His legendary status hasn’t changed and that is an automatic draw to the kids they are trying to reach.

“As I transitioned out of basketball, I was ready to embrace the new stages of life,” Simien reflected. “Husband, father and campus ministry - that’s what I had a heart to do. I get the chance to be on a college campus every day, helping mentor students to discover greatness in life.”

That’s powerful stuff!

The same characteristics that earned Simien the Senior CLASS Award 10 years ago are now being utilized in his everyday life, enabling him to make a tremendous impact on others in a way that he could not have imagined as a student.

It’s been a decade-long journey that he started with playing basketball at the highest level, and then taking those skills he learned both on and off the court, and creating a way to pass that on to generations to come. His headlines have changed from basketball game box scores to a life scorecard that will have eternal benefits.

And he’s just getting started. “I see ourselves over the next 10 years still doing this ministry work, helping equip college students to become all that God designed them to be.”

Now that’s greatness.