Former Kansas walk-on Matt Kleinmann smiled Thursday night when asked to reflect on his favorite personal KU memory.
“You can’t go wrong with winning a national championship,” Kleinmann said. “You can’t go wrong with a walk-on getting to start in a game that wasn’t Senior Night.”
Kleinmann, though, had a different story pop into his head on Thursday night after the Rock Chalk Roundball Classic when thinking back to what stood out most from his KU basketball career — one that went from 2004-09.
“The one I tell the most often was, I remember my fourth year before the championship, Coach (Bill) Self had Danny Manning go around the room and tell everybody what their professional prospects were for basketball,” Kleinmann said. “So each guy, one after another, Danny points at, ‘First round draft pick.’ ‘Lottery pick.’ ‘Second round draft pick.’ ‘Overseas.’ ‘Overseas.’ ‘Coaching.’ He gets to me, and he points at me, and he doesn’t say anything for about five seconds. Then he goes to the next guy.”
Kleinmann laughed at the recollection.
“Ever since then, I realized, ‘I need to get a job,’” Kleinmann said. “I doubled down on my studies after that moment. That was a good experience. Thanks Coach Manning.”
It seems that with KU basketball — like most sports teams — some of most unforgettable times come from outside actual competition.
With that in mind, I grabbed a few KU alums from the Roundball Classic to ask them two questions to see what they remembered most. One, what is your favorite personal memory at KU? And two, inspired by a recent story from Lindsey Adler, when was the closest you came to quitting basketball?
The answers took KU players to memory lane that included lying naked in the locker room, finding a lucky charm and also feeling like the president of the United States.
What is your favorite personal memory at KU?
Kenny Gregory, guard, 1997-2001
I have so many. The thing that jumps to my mind now is probably my freshman year, playing in the Preseason NIT in New York. That was pretty cool, the first month of my college career where we’re playing in Madison Square Garden, playing with Paul (Pierce) and Raef (LaFrentz), guys I watched on TV before. That’s one of the things that jumps out, that we were able to play in the preseason NIT and win that, especially in the Garden.
Jeff Graves, forward, 2002-04
Being in the national championship, that was probably the all-time high. I felt like the president in the past, just going through the streets. It just felt like everybody was clearing streets and going like 100 (mph) in buses, and cops were in front of us. It was an experience.
Cole Aldrich, center, 2007-10
I think it has to do with Tyrel (Reed). So I showed up late to school because I hadn’t graduated high school yet, because in Minnesota, we graduate the first week of June. So I get done. I have no idea who Tyrel is. He gets back from class, and we’re down there, and he found a dollar going to class. And for my three years — he still probably has the dollar, you can ask him about it — it became some lucky dollar of his. Just so many memories of Tyrel being roommates and so many other guys on the court. But that one kind of sticks out for some reason. It was literally in his dorm room, propped up above the closet for years.
What’s the closest you’ve come to quitting basketball?
My third KU practice. Coach (Roy) Williams, he ran us like I’ve never been ran before. Coming from high school, you know, you’re the best high school player on your team, kind of cruise through practice. My third practice, I’ve never ran that much in my life. I just laid out, passed out in the locker room. I laid in the locker room next to the Jayhawk for three hours naked on the floor after everyone left. I just couldn’t move. I always remember after my third practice, I was like, ‘I came all the way from Ohio for this.’ Then after awhile, you realize it’s someone else’s turn the next day. I called my AAU coach and was like, ‘What did I get into?’ I’m 18 at the time, just like, ‘What is going on? Is it going to be this hard every day?’ Then you get used to it, it gets better as time goes on. You earn your stripes. Coach kind of leaves you alone a little bit. But that third practice, I’ll always remember that.
There was probably a high school time, whenever I was transferring between football and basketball. I played D-end and tight end in football. Between that time, I just think it was a mental thing first, like, ‘Hey, I want to play football.’ You get highly recruited for one sport versus the other sport, then you blossom into growing bigger. I still have a little passion for football, because you’ve got to have a little bit of craziness in you to play football. I’ve got that in me.
I’m one the few people that got to live my dreams literally, because I grew up loving KU and never thought I was good enough, and the coaches confirmed that for me for a long time. But I jumped from being a mid-tier, OK high school player to being on the best team in college basketball. For me, I don’t think I ever considered quitting per se, but I think it was always in the back of my head that, ‘This is the last hurrah.’ My saying goodbye to college basketball after five years … when I was done, I was out. I don’t think I ever thought about quitting. But I do think I took a long time to say goodbye.
I don’t know if I’ve been close yet. There’s been times I’ve been like, ‘Oh man, I don’t know if this (crap’s) worth it, just because the older you get, the more different it becomes. You look at it differently. I’m 30 and I’m married and I’m getting old. I’m not 23 running and jumping and doing all that. So I look at it differently. There’s been times I’ve thought, ‘You know what? It might be the end of the road for me.’ But not because of me just stopping. It’s probably coming quick, though. I’ve probably got 2, 3, 4 more years left.