University of Kansas

Former KU and NBA forward Drew Gooden basks in joy on his college graduation day

Drew Gooden enjoyed the fruits of his academic labor on Sunday during KU’s commencement exercises.
Drew Gooden enjoyed the fruits of his academic labor on Sunday during KU’s commencement exercises.

Former Kansas/NBA forward Drew Gooden, who stands 6-foot-10, peered down at his shoes Sunday morning, acknowledging his graduation gown needed to be just a tad bit longer so as to not resemble flood pants.

“They gave me the option 6-foot-4 to 6-foot-6. This is the longest one (gown) they’ve got,” the 35-year-old Oakland, Calif., native who now lives in Orlando, Fla., said with a big smile.

Traditional black cap atop his head and gown over his still-slender body, Gooden visited with current KU coaches and staff members, and other well-wishers between 10 and 10:30 a.m. in front of Strong Hall on Jayhawk Boulevard.

They gathered for pictures and to congratulate Gooden on KU’s Graduation Day 2017.

Gooden — he played 14 years in the NBA after leaving KU after his junior season in 2002 — finished work on his communication studies degree in December and enjoyed the fruits of his academic labor walking down Campanile Hill on Sunday morning into Memorial Stadium for KU commencement exercises.

Several of Gooden’s family members watched the proceedings, including dad, Andrew II, and son, Andrew IV.

“I’ve got three (diplomas) — one for me, one for my mom and one for Roy Williams,” Gooden said. He indicated he would ship a copy to former KU coach Williams, who has completed 14 seasons at North Carolina after 15 seasons at KU.

“So he can put it right in his office right across from his desk,” Gooden added of Williams, a man he promised he’d someday attain a KU degree.

“I’m actually looking into getting a masters degree. It sounds good right now. We’ll see,” Gooden added.

Gooden was greeted on campus Sunday by several members of the current athletic department, including KU head coach Bill Self and all his assistants.

Three of Gooden’s former KU teammates, Wayne Simien, Terry Nooner and Nick Bradford, also attended the graduation of their buddy.

“Drew called me in September and said, ‘I’m graduating.’ I said, ‘I’ll be there,’’’ said Bradford, head boys basketball coach at Mexico (Mo.) High. “I’m proud of Drew to come back and finish after his time here. He didn’t need to make it a priority, but did. To finish it out says a lot about him and the school as well,” Bradford added.

“He was a knucklehead. I can’t believe he did it,” Nooner, assistant women’s baskeball coach at University of Maryland, said with a smile. “Nah … I’m really proud of him. It says a lot about his character,” Nooner added in a serious tone.

Gooden, by the way, made approximately $60 million in a 14-year NBA career. Still, he wanted his degree.

“Talk about having a monkey on your back,” Gooden said of not having a degree. “I actually had nightmares about it. I’d wake up and be on campus, and something would go wrong and I hadn’t graduated. This is something I said I’d do and something I really wanted to do. I’m glad so many people are here to see it.”

Gary Bedore: 816-234-4068, @garybedore