Growing up in Kansas, Wayne Simien knew early on he wanted to be a Kansas Jayhawk. While he was dominating other players on the court in college, Wayne came to understand that as great as the game of basketball was, his identity was more than just what he could do with a ball. He talked with us about when he realized his life was about more than basketball.
How old were you when you started playing basketball? What made you fall in love with the sport?
Simien: “I started playing basketball when I was about 5 years old with my dad in the driveway. I grew in my enjoyment for basketball because of being on a team and learning skills from my father and coaches.”
You were a McDonalds All-American in high school and also helped win the 6A State title your junior year. What did you do to be able to succeed at a high level?
Simien: “Something that helped me experience success at several levels of basketball was out working my opponents and remaining coachable. Though I was gifted with some size and athletic talent I resolved in my heart that no one was going to outwork me. No matter how much I grew in my skill I was going to allow my coaches to teach and challenge me to aspire to a higher level.”
In your college career at Kansas, you experienced some great wins and accomplishments, but also some crushing defeats. How did you overcome those tough losses?
Simien: “One of the ways that helped me handle big wins and devastating losses was not finding my identity or worth in how I preformed on the court. Though many people identified me as a basketball player, I knew that because of my faith in Jesus my identity was more than that. If I played good or bad or if we won or lost I could look in the mirror and see myself as a son of God because my faith was in Jesus Christ.”
In your jersey retirement speech at Kansas you talked about Jesus changing your life in college. Can you tell us about that?
Simien: “My first two years of college basketball was my God. It was the most important thing in my life. From the outside looking in it looked like I had everything that a twenty year-old college basketball player could want, but I was empty, broken, bored, and searching for a greater purpose. I met a campus minister one day walking to class and he began to tell me how God changed his life and who Jesus was and what he accomplished. We began to study the Bible and get connected with a community of other young people going after God. I became a Christian July 12, 2003 and my life was completely transformed from the inside out.”
What made you walk away from playing professional ball in 2009?
Simien: “I transitioned out of professional basketball so that I could return to the college campuses and see other lives transformed by Jesus like my life was.”
What Bible verse has impacted your life the most?
Simien: “The entire Biblical narrative continues to impact my life on a daily basis but most recently Galatians 2:20 has been a big encouragement to me.” “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Wayne Simien is a former college and professional basketball player. Wayne played college ball at Kansas where he was a consensus All-American and the Big 12 Player of the Year in 2005. Simien was selected 29th overall in the first round of the 2005 NBA draft by the Miami Heat with whom he won a NBA Title in 2006. In 2009, Simien stepped away from pro ball and began the ministry “Called to Greatness” which works to reach out and minister to college students. Wayne is currently the campus director for the University of Kansas. He and his wife Katie have five children: Selah, Rael, Simon, Shepherd, and Emmaus. You can follow Wayne on Twitter @waynesimien