By: Emily Franzenburg
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
If someone is looking for Matt Kleinmann, they won’t need to search very hard. When not found on the basketball court, he can be found hard at work toward his architecture degree. And that’s just the way the Overland Park, Kan., senior likes it. After all, he asked for it.
“I remember coming here and telling our academic advisor, Scott Ward, that I wanted to do architecture,” said Kleinmann, a five-time member of the Athletic Director’s honor roll. “He flat out told me, ‘No, that’s not a good idea.’ But I really wanted to give it a shot, so he helped me out a lot my first year.
"The people in the architecture department have been very helpful as well when it comes to scheduling and things like that. I’ve had to take classes way out of order. I’ve had a very interesting five years, to say the least.”
Those five interesting years almost didn’t happen at the University of Kansas, however. Another well-known basketball school was on Kleinmann’s list of college options. In the end, the decision came down to a matter of roots, not history.
“I had a conversation with Jared Haase from North Carolina, who told me there might be a spot on their team if I went out there,” said Kleinmann, who came to KU in 2004. “I remember thinking, ‘Wow, North Carolina.’ Obviously, the tradition and everything is great there, but in the back of my mind I was thinking maybe Kansas could offer me a shot.
"I’m a Kansas kid so I decided to stick here. Then (former Kansas assistant coach Tim) Jankovich called and said there might be a spot for me. That was very much a jaw-dropping moment for me, hearing that I might have a chance to play basketball at Kansas.”
That was all Kleinmann needed to hear. Once he decided to attend Kansas, it was time to pick his major.
“I never did architecture or anything like that in high school,” said Kleinmann, who lists architectural studio as his favorite subject. “Before college, I did a lot of painting because it was something that I enjoyed. I actually got accepted to the fine arts school at KU as well, but I chose architecture because I thought I’d have a chance to make more money.
“Now I get my creative enjoyment out of doing architecture. Maybe someday when I’m not so busy I’ll be able to get back to that (painting), but for now architecture kind of fills both roles for me.”
Kleinmann will be the first to tell you that living his dream doesn’t come without hard work. Each of his passions comes with an enormous time commitment. Head coach Bill Self praises Kleinmann’s work ethic both on and off the court.
“Matt has been great for our program,” said Self. “He is an outstanding student in a tough architecture major. Being a senior, he is a positive influence on our younger kids with his hard work ethic. He comes to practice with a great attitude every day.
"Our players don’t look at Matt as a walk-on but as a teammate that has been here and fought the battles with some very talented big men such as Wayne (Simien), Sasha (Kaun), Darnell (Jackson) and Darrell (Arthur) and now Cole (Aldrich) and the (Morris) twins.”
Although Kleinmann spends his days in class, at practice or in studio, he says he wouldn’t trade his experience at KU for anything.
“The best part about playing at KU is the teammates I’ve had," he said. "The fans have been great too, of course. Winning the national championship is a no brainer, but the teammates I’ve had over the years have been great. Every single teammate has been a good person and a friend of mine.
"Even the guys who aren’t here anymore, we try to stay in touch. It’s been a great experience getting to know these guys."
His teammates appreciate his dedication as well. Sophomore Cole Aldrich says Kleinmann gives the underclassmen someone to look up to.
“Matt is a great teammate,” Aldrich said. “He gives us younger guys something to strive for in that he works hard all the time and that is the way coach wants us to play. Matt may not get the playing time like some of us other big men but he has such a great attitude and loves Kansas basketball.”
Kleinmann thinks his time as a student-athlete may even help him in his future pursuits. Through contacts, travel and even the current renovation project taking place at Allen Fieldhouse, he finds himself excited for the opportunities that lie ahead.
“I’d like to do sports architecture, but there are so many opportunities to design that I’ll go wherever my career takes me,” Kleinmann said. “Once I met a man from HOK (a sports architecture firm in Kansas City) who was helping to build the new Yankee Stadium, which was unreal. And now I see what they’re doing here with the Fieldhouse, and it’s so interesting.
"Things like that show me that it (architecture) is a field I’d like to stay in, because I know sports and I know architecture.”