Local fans celebrate with Simien
Leavenworth native fulfills dream when taken 29th in NBA Draft
Leavenworth Richard W. Warren Middle School looked an awful lot like Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night.
A packed house filled the school's auditorium to watch the NBA Draft live on a projection TV, and cheer on local basketball hero Wayne Simien.
The only thing missing was NBA Commissioner David Stern.
The middle school certainly had star power, as the former Kansas forward and man of the hour arrived shortly after being drafted by the Miami Heat.
The hundreds of people watching the draft grew restless as Simien continued to go unpicked, but when his name finally was called, the auditorium got as loud as a rock concert.
The mob then scurried around the auditorium hoping to get the first possible glance of Simien. When he arrived, a little before 10 p.m., the place exploded again.
"This is really exciting," Simien said. "A guy from a small town in Kansas made it all the way to the NBA."
By being picked 29th in the first round, Simien will receive a two-year guaranteed contract from the Heat.
He also gets the chance to play for a team that made it to the Eastern Conference Finals last year, and features two of the game's best players in Shaquille O'Neal and Dwayne Wade.
"Obviously the things that stand out about Miami are that they're a winning team and a great organization," he said. "I look forward to getting the chance to contribute along with those two superstars."
Leigh Steinberg, Simien's agent, was also on hand. He said Simien put in a lot of hard work traveling across the country to showcase his talent to 16 of the 29 NBA teams.
He thought Simien's character was what won the Heat over.
"Every team gave us great feedback in that area," he said. "That aspect certainly helped our cause."
Simien's press conference was cut short after the crowd outside became tired of waiting. Chants of "We want Wayne!" began to echo throughout the building, and Simien walked out to the crowd under a sign that read, "Welcome back Wayne, we're proud of you."
He gave a few lucky fans high fives and then addressed the crowd from a podium on the auditorium's stage.
He told them that it was a great thrill to be with his hometown supporters, and hoped another Leavenworth basketball player would someday follow in his footsteps.
Simien also said no matter where he goes, he will always call Kansas home.