Former University of Kansas and NBA standout Wayne Simien brought his Called to Greatness basketball camp to Great Bend for the third straight year.
Kids from third grade to 12th grade congregated at the Panther Athletic Center on Monday and Tuesday to participate in the two-day camp.
“This is the third year that Called to Greatness has been here in the Great Bend community,” Simien said. “It’s been great not only to return year after year and to see the same kids here year after year, but to see the numbers grow.
“We’ve got about 80 kids out here this year in both sessions, and it’s been really encouraging to see how the camp has grown in the community.”
In its three years in Great Bend, the farthest west the camp travels in Kansas, the number of kids attending the camp has grown.
“This is a great turnout,” local camp coordinator Buzz Birney said. “This year, I think I counted 80 kids in both sessions, and last year we had maybe 60. It’s getting better every year. What’s really neat is last year I think we had maybe three girls and this year we have over 20, so that’s really exciting.”
Simien said that he was happy with the way the ministry has been going and that he was glad to see how the kids in the community have responded to the camp.
“The reason that we keep coming back is the great turnout and there is some really great relationships here in the community,” Simien said. “Buzz Birney has done a great job coordinating the camp and finding volunteers and spreading the word. Without him, we wouldn’t be able to do it.”
Simien was a product of Leavenworth High School, and was part of the 2001 McDonald’s All-American Team before going to play for former Kansas head coach Roy Williams.
It was as a member of the Jayhawks that Simien said he found his faith.
“I was a 20-year-old college kid that had everything that the world said should make him happy,” Simien said. “I had fame and success on the basketball court, had a future in the NBA, notoriety, access to drugs and alcohol. I had access to all this, but I wasn’t happy. I wasn’t fulfilled.
“I was looking for something greater to live for than myself and basketball and I found that in Jesus Christ, so I want to help others find and experience that themselves.”
He played under Williams and current head coach Bill Self at KU and was the Big 12 Conference Player of the Year his senior year before he was drafted 29th overall by the Miami Heat, where he was part of the 2006 NBA championship team.
After spending a year playing in Spain, he decided to return and begin a youth ministry — Called to Greatness.
“Doing camps was something that I started when I was still playing for the Miami Heat,” Simien said. “I’ve always had the desire to run a basketball camp of my own. I went to them as a kid. I helped coach some of them when I was in college, but I wanted to have so much more than basketball skills.
“I wanted to help speak of a message that will help these kids in every area of their life, so being able to share the message of Jesus Christ is something that fuels me to continue to do this.”