Bishop Ward graduate Chris Huey gets a second chance at his dream as a player for the University of Kansas basketball team
by Todd Habiger
LAWRENCE — Five years ago, Chris Huey saw his dreams of college basketball glory die with multiple instances of a collapsed lung while he was a member of the University of St. Mary basketball team in Leavenworth.
On Feb. 21, that dream was resurrected when Huey — a graduate of Bishop Ward High School in Kansas City, Kansas, and student manager for the University of Kansas basketball team — suited up against Texas Christian University.
The crowd of more than 16,000 at Allen Fieldhouse jumped to their feet, erupting in ear-splitting cheers when Kansas head coach Bill Self put Huey in the game with 35. 1 seconds left.
“Once [Coach Bill Self] called my name, I was trying to get my mind right to get in there,” Huey said. “Growing up in the area and having the fans getting on their feet one time for me was just an amazing experience.”
During his 35.1 seconds on the court, Huey, affectionately known by the team as Scarecrow, got a shot attempt off but missed.
“I remember Trent Johnson, who is TCU’s head coach, saying they don’t want to foul anymore. So once I got the ball, I tried to take it to the basket. Nerves just got the best of me and I couldn’t finish,” Huey said.
It was still a magical moment for Huey. But in order for this dream to come true, he had to let another one go.
Growing up Catholic
Huey is a cradle Catholic and grew up in the Cathedral of St. Peter neighborhood in Kansas City, Kansas.
He attended Catholic schools all his life, first at what was then known as Cathedral Grade School — now Resurrection School at the Cathedral — and then on to Bishop Ward.
Huey has fond memories of his Catholic school days and credits them with preparing him to take on the challenges that life would bring.
“The teachers at Catholic schools care about you so much,” said Huey. “They really work hard to make sure you’re prepared for everything — not just in school, but in life.”
The 6-foot-7-inch Huey started for the Bishop Ward basketball team, averaging 7.6 points per game and 2.8 rebounds his senior year. His play was good enough to earn him a partial basketball scholarship to the University of St. Mary.
“I chose St. Mary’s because it was somewhere I thought I would get a chance to play,” he said. “I thought it was the right fit for me out of high school. St. Mary’s was great to me.”
In one of his first practices as a member of the St. Mary’s basketball team, Huey suffered a collapsed lung, the result of a violent collision while playing at Ward. Several surgeries followed. During this time, Huey relied on his faith and his family to get him through.
“I had so much support. Each of the times I was in the hospital, I had so many people come to see me,” he said. “I always had people there in my corner.”
And, of course, he had something else to fall back on as well.
“Faith was always big to me,” he said.
The dream dies
After multiple surgeries and multiple rehabs, Huey finally made one of the toughest decisions of his young life.
He gave his dream of playing college basketball.
“It was tough giving up the game I love. It was a tough decision to make,” he said. “I had to do what was best for me at the time. Dealing with surgeries and stuff like that, although it wasn’t a lot of pain for me, it was just a process to go through over and over. I thought it was better to get away from it and try to enjoy myself.”
Giving up basketball also meant giving up the University of St. Mary. Although he enjoyed his time at St. Mary’s, without basketball as a consideration, Huey decided to make a fresh start.
“A lot of my friends were [at the University of Kansas] and I grew up a KU fan, so coming here was an easy decision,” he said.
For the first time in a long time, basketball wasn’t a part of Huey’s life. During his first year at KU, Huey focused on being a student and soaking up the college experience. And he loved it.
Huey might have thought he was done with basketball.
But basketball wasn’t done with him.
Return to the game
After his first year at KU, Huey was approached by a fellow Ward graduate named James Cox, who was KU’s head student manager at the time, about working at KU’s summer basketball camps.
“I told him yeah, mainly because I needed money for the summer,” Huey said.
But working at the camp also ignited the old basketball flame. With his camp work giving him a decided edge over the competition, he applied to become a student manager. He was lucky enough to be one of the few selected.
The Scarecrow nickname would soon follow.
Huey says most people think he was given the nickname Scarecrow because of his slight frame — but that’s not the case.
In one practice, Huey was tasked with hitting one of Kansas’ big guys with a pad. Assistant coach Kurtis Townsend didn’t think Huey was hitting him hard enough.
“The student trainer at the time told him I had a collapsed lung,” Huey said. “Coach Townson is a big jokester so he started calling me Scarecrow, saying, “if I only had another lung,” a takeoff of the “Wizard of Oz” song “If I Only Had a Brain,” sung by the Scarecrow.
For two years, Huey dwelt in anonymity as a student manager for the basketball team. But this season, Coach Self needed a tall body on the scout team to practice against his big men. Scarecrow got the call.
As a member of the scout team, Huey’s job is to practice against KU’s big men and mimic some of the best players in the Big 12.
“It’s really cool just to be able to help and to see what the game is like on the floor with them,” Huey said. “It’s also cool to see that Coach Self thinks I can help the team. It’s cool going up against those guys — some of them future pros.”
The dream lives
After a season of trading body shots and elbows with the likes of Perry Ellis and Cliff Alexander, Self decided to reward Huey by letting him suit up for a game.
“Coach stopped me in front of the guys after we huddled up and asked me if it was a dream of mine growing up to play here,” said Huey. “Obviously, I said yes. Then he brought out a jersey with my name on it and said he wanted me to suit up.
“My heart just stopped for a second. I didn’t know what to say but ‘thank you’ a whole bunch. I was in a state of shock at that point.”
“He does a lot with our team,” said Self, “more than our other managers from a playing standpoint. He’s the biggest guy, so he guards and beats people with dummies. I decided, since he’s a senior, that that would be a cool deal.”
So, on Feb. 21, Huey stepped onto one of the most famous courts in college basketball, Allen Fieldhouse — as a player.
As a manager, Huey sits behind the bench tending to the players’ and coaches’ needs. It was somewhat of an adjustment being a player.
“It was a little weird because in my mind I was still thinking as a manager,” Huey said. “During timeouts, it was weird not doing anything; standing in the huddle. But just sitting on the bench was great. It’s a great view of the game and it was cool to sit there with the guys.”
His teammates were thrilled for him.
Following the game, Kansas guard Wayne Selden Jr. posted a picture on Instagram of himself and Huey together on the court with the caption: “To see somebody work so hard day in & day out and finally be blessed with such a great opportunity. We sometimes take for granted the opportunities we are given but @c_huey24 showed how to be thankful for the blessings we receive. Today is your day, brother, shine on!”
Kansas forward Jamari Traylor echoed those comments at a press conference following the game.
“That guy works hard all the time. It’s good to have him out there and see him rewarded like that,” Traylor said.
After the game, Huey became a celebrity of sorts. He’s done multiple local TV and radio shows. He had an interview with a Syracuse, N.Y., newspaper, and did an interview with ESPN’s “SportsCenter.”
“The whole experience — Coach surprising me and the game itself — it’s been a dream come true, but it’s been exhausting,” he said. “So much has taken place and it happened so fast, I almost have to take some time and sit back and think, ‘Did all of that really happen?’”
Huey said he’s never looked back and wondered what his basketball career could have been like if he hadn’t suffered a collapsed lung. But when pressed about whether he would trade his 35 seconds of fame for a four-year career somewhere else, Huey doesn’t hesitate.
“I’ll take my [35 seconds] here any day,” he said. “That may sound like a weird decision, but I’ve really enjoyed my time here with the team and couldn’t ask for things to end up a better way.”