Feb. 21, 2013
Matt Kleinmann, a native of Overland Park, Kan., was an invited walk-on to the Kansas men’s basketball program in the fall of 2004. The 6-10 center took a redshirt for the 2004-05 season before playing in 70 games between 2005 and 2009. KU won every game in which Kleinmann scored and he was affectionately known to Jayhawk Nation as “Big Red.” A five-time member of the Athletic Director’s Honor Roll and a five-time Big 12 Commissioner’s honor roll honoree, Kleinmann was an outstanding architectural student who studied hard in the classroom and played hard on the court. After leaving KU, he completed a graduate degree in urban design at Washington University in St. Louis and spent time traveling around the world. He currently lives in Kansas City and works for Helix, an architecture firm. Kleinmann loves the Lawrence atmosphere and still attends KU sporting events on a regular basis, often catching up with former teammates.
What have you been doing since you left KU?
“I left KU with my Master’s in architecture at the worst time to be an architect. I remember my graduating class had 70 people in a professional practice class; they asked us to raise our hands if we thought that we were going to get a job and only seven people raised their hands. So I was one of a few fortunate people who thought ahead and enrolled in graduate school at Washington University in St. Louis. I went there for urban design and I loved it. I went to China once and I thought there were a lot of opportunities, so I took off again and started working on a post-professional bachelor’s degree. It’s kind of silly to pick up another Master’s degree because if I wanted to teach, I would teach. But I really did it because I wanted to travel. I spent six months in South America. I traveled to Buenos Aires, all over Brazil and Bolivia, and Machu Picchu in Peru. Since I decided to postpone my urban design completion, I spent a summer living in Shanghai. I went to Singapore and lived there for a while. In August of 2011 I came back to Kansas City and I already had an offer by that point to work for Helix Architecture in Kansas City in the crossroads district. I’ve been working there ever since.”
What made you choose to attend KU and how did you decide to major in architecture?
“I chose architecture primarily because while I was in high school I was always interested in art, but I wasn’t really into architecture per se. One of my high school teachers, Larry Waylan, said, ‘You know you might not be a great artist but you’re smart and you’re good enough that you would probably make a good architect. You would probably make more money as an architect than you would as an artist.’ I was looking at many different schools, and I really wanted to get into Stanford on a basketball scholarship. However, I wasn’t their first or second choice, so they got some other guys. I looked all over the country at mid-level D-I’s thinking I could get a scholarship offer and go into art or architecture. I almost went to Pacific on an art scholarship but at the last minute, Roy Williams called from North Carolina and offered me an interview. A few days later, he then called me and offered a walk-on spot on the (Kansas) basketball team. I thought about it for a night or so and eventually decided that I just couldn’t afford out of state tuition. Then a week later I got a call from KU and basically I got the same comment from them saying, ‘We would love to have you in the program. We can’t guarantee you a scholarship, but you would be on the team.’ I immediately I looked up KU’s architecture program and found out that it was a good fit for me. A friend of mine had already gone to KU, so I talked to him a little bit and that was kind of how I got started.”
What made you start playing basketball?
“I was taller than every kid around me, but don’t know if I ever necessarily said that I wanted to play basketball. I think I played every sport. It was kind of a South Johnson County thing. You are on the soccer team in the soccer season and the baseball team during baseball season. In eighth grade, I had a meeting with my doctor who said, ‘If you keep playing football you’ll probably never play basketball because someone will take your knees out.’ This certainly made me think that I might want to consider changing what sports to play. I chose basketball.”
What is your favorite basketball memory from KU?
“The whole experience was amazing. I still get chills sometimes thinking about all of the experiences. I look back and think that I should have been a sports journalist; I should have had my own camera and notepad (with me at all times) because there are so many amazing memories I have from college. It’s weird because you don’t really remember all what happened until later on when you are with old teammates and you say, ‘You know that one time so and so did this,’ then things start to come back crystal clear. Some of the best memories are things that I can’t even talk about. It’s stuff that’s just too personal or too funny, but it’s the camaraderie that I miss the most. I miss being able to have 15 guys in a locker room when you are 18 to 20 years old. You can imagine the kind of conversations you have or the kind of activities you do, just being kids. I think, more than anything, I miss those kinds of fun experiences.”
Do you still keep in touch with your Jayhawk teammates?
“It’s hit and miss. For some of the guys that are in a league, Mario (Chalmers) and Darrell (Arthur), I talk to maybe once a year. Some of those people are hard to reach because they have such a busy schedule. For me, college was the highlight of my playing career, but for them it’s completely different. They’re still playing the game every day. As far as the guys that aren’t playing anymore, we catch up more often. It’s awesome. I meet up with guys like Chase Buford, Jordan Juenemann and Tyrel Reed more often. We met at the last basketball game and just sat and talked, and had a great chance to catch up. I see Wayne Simien and every time I talk to him it’s just like we live in the old days. I still feel very young around Wayne even though we are close in age. I was a freshman when he was senior, so I still feel like I’m under his wing. Then I will see guys like Ryan Robertson, Scot Pollard, and Bud Stallworth; we share similar stories because we went through the exact same thing. I have a bond with them even though I never played with them.”
What does it mean to be a Jayhawk to you?
“That’s a good question. It’s one of those things that I don’t get asked very often. I probably have a more nuanced view only because the day KU lost to Northern Iowa I was walking on the Great Wall of China for the first time. My mindset has gone from growing up my whole life bleeding Crimson and Blue every day to being a part of it; it was just an incredible experience. When I traveled to China and South America, since I was from Kansas, everyone thought I was a cowboy or something. I think getting away from KU was healthy for me in a way. It taught me to have great respect and appreciation for what I was a part of. I think I appreciate being a Jayhawk more since I have traveled. I remember people in Chicago or New York who knew my name and recognized me from KU games and that was a pretty powerful thing to me. The fact that that I played on a team that won a big game five years ago and people still cherish it, that’s a great thing.”
Any final thoughts on your time at KU?
“It’s funny because I’m still living in Kansas City so I make it back to all the games I can. I still feel very much a part of it, and still get into it, but I also have kind of that perspective (of someone on the outside). People get so caught up in the day-to-day stuff and I know what it’s like to actually be in the locker room. People say that the names on the back (of the jerseys) change but the name on the front never changes. The names on the back do change and guys with different personalities and different lives (come in and out of the program). I am always really intrigued by that. Guys from all over the country, and sometimes all over the world, come to Kansas and you know this place shapes them. I think that is something that not enough people really value; a lot of the guys that I have been fortunate enough to be teammates with have had profoundly differently lives, and almost all for the better, because of being able to be a part of the community in Lawrence, Kansas. That’s the cool thing for me. I just got an email the other day from Aaron Miles, out of the blue; Aaron lives somewhere in Russia and that’s a special thing. People still care about a town in Kansas because of the fans and because of the treasure. I couldn’t say anything better other than I still love being a part of it.”