James Sosinski sat against the scorer’s table 30 minutes after his Allen Fieldhouse debut, pulling the cell phone out of his sweatpants pocket for a quick glance.
The screen was filled with text messages.
“A lot of people are hitting me up from back home,” he said with a smile. “It’s just kind of cool.”
The transition was complete. Sosinski, who arrived at KU in the summer strictly as a football player, had just scored four points in 4 minutes in his first appearance for the basketball team in a 109-64 victory over Omaha on Monday.
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“It was just a fun moment,” Sosinski said. “I’m not going to lie: The last two weeks, I’ve been working really hard.”
This was the reward: playing basketball on national television one year after he decided to give up the sport for good.
Let’s go back for a second. Sosinski, a two-sport athlete in high school, originally signed with UMass to play football before breaking his foot. Unable to play quarterback, he transferred to South Mountain Community College in Phoenix for basketball, averaging 19 points and 13 rebounds last season.
Though he had an offer to play hoops at Washington State, the 6-foot-7, 250-pound Sosinski picked football instead.
“I just have a fire for it,” he said.
After meeting KU linebackers coach Todd Bradford at a camp, Sosinski received an invitation to join the Jayhawks’ football team. He redshirted his first season while playing tight end for the first time in his life.
The week after the season ended, football coach David Beaty approached Sosinski in the Anderson Football Complex. KU coach Bill Self had contacted Beaty, wondering if Sosinski would be interested in trying out as a basketball practice player.
“Once I got that call from coach Self,” Sosinski said, “I just did whatever they told me to do.”
During Sosinski’s first practice week — a “tryout” period — coaches had him step in on some drills. Self was most pleased that Sosinski didn’t back down from 7-foot center Udoka Azubuike.
“James is our best low-post defender on Doke. There’s no question,” Self said. “He can put a body on him and foul him and get him off his spot better than anybody, which I think is good for Doke to play against that.”
Sosinski was officially added to the roster before KU’s Dec. 6 game against Washington, but because the last three contests were close, he remained on the bench.
He had a feeling that would change Monday. When KU started to build a lead, he joked with teammates, asking if he should go to a nearby stationary bike to warm up.
Then, seconds before Sosinski checked in, Self asked him if he knew one of the team’s most basic plays. Sosinski shook his head no.
“(Coach) just kind of smiled and told me what to do. He said, ‘We’ll just stick to this for tonight,’ ” Sosinski said with a laugh.
Though the forward wasn’t sure his execution was great — “I was supposed to screen, but I’m pretty sure I set it too early” — he still put in a right-handed bank shot at the 2:17 mark and a stickback with 54 seconds left. His final stat line: four points on 2-for-2 shooting with two rebounds.
“It felt great,” Sosinski said. “Four points is whatever. I’m just happy I got to play tonight.”
He earned the opportunity by giving up his body the last few weeks. Sosinski says he has bruises up and down both arms from battling Azubuike, and his legs also have been sore each night as he tries to work into basketball shape.
So why do it? What’s in this for him?
“I just want to be a part of a winning culture and see what it’s like,” Sosinski said. “I want to see how hard these guys work and their intensity, how they bring it every day. I feel like it’s been a great learning experience for me.”
It’s one that could potentially help his football future as well. No, Sosinski isn’t giving up one sport while moonlighting in the other.
“I’m guessing spring ball is going to start pretty close to the end of this,” Sosinski said, “so it’s basically right back to it.”