Guess who’s back in town? Former KU guards Mario Chalmers, Keith Langford

Former Jayhawk Keith Langford was at his Wingstop restaurant in Lawrence on Saturday. | GARY BEDORE |
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By Gary Bedore

Former Kansas guard Mario Chalmers of the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies posed for pictures with fans who bowled in his ninth-annual Mario V. Chalmers Foundation fundraiser on Saturday afternoon at Royal Crest Lanes, located a few blocks west of KU’s campus.

At the exact same time, 2 to 4 p.m., another highly-accomplished ex-Jayhawk playmaker — overseas sensation Keith Langford — visited with families while distributing free backpacks and school supplies at his local Wingstop Restaurant located a few streets south of Mt. Oread.

“Next year, we’ll have to combine it. We’ll have to figure out how to put a whole weekend together — me, Keith and a couple other guys,” said Chalmers. He’s set to resume his nine-year NBA career in 2017-18 with the Grizzlies after spending last season rehabbing from Achilles surgery.

“I think it says a lot about the community of Kansas as a whole,” said Chalmers, 31, about the coincidence that two former Jayhawks would sponsor charity events the same summer weekend in Lawrence. “The players that come through here, we love giving back,” added Chalmers.

The 33-year-old Langford — who recently signed a one-year deal worth $2.2 million to continue his 13-year pro career with the Shenzhen Leopards in China — said he was happy to be serving the community with Chalmers, a player Langford hosted on Chalmers’ recruiting trip from Anchorage, Alaska to KU during the 2004-05 season.

“It shows how attached the players are to the community and vice versa,” said Langford. He and wife Brittany, co-owners of the Wingstop, handed out all but 20 of their backpacks in just one hour. “I think it also speaks to the level of success guys have had since they’ve left. Now being able to give back … it speaks volumes.

“If I remember correctly, Mario has been active since day one. You see these things and others (players) kind of follow suit. Seeing the response, this makes me want to do more,” Langford added. “It’s been 16 years since I got to this campus. To come here today and see a full house … I was really pleased. A lot of people remembered my time here. A lot of people said they were glad to see someone helping out.”

Langford is KU’s eighth-leading scorer of all-time (1,812 points) who played in a pair of Final Fours and one Elite Eight. Chalmers is KU’s 29th-leading scorer (1,341 points in three seasons), who hit the shot that sent the 2008 NCAA title game against Memphis into overtime.

KU, of course, won that game and the ’08 national championship.

“I really can’t believe it. I thought I’d be a forgotten face out here nine, ten years later,” Chalmers said. “I mean the fans still love me. The kids still love me. I just come back and give as much as I can. I love giving back. That’s something my mom and dad always preached to me, giving back to a community that gave to you.”

Chalmers — whose foundation supports cancer research and youth initiatives in the area including funds for the Boys and Girls Club’s Teen Center — said he’s looking forward to mounting a comeback during the upcoming NBA season.

“I’ll be better than new,” Chalmers said. “It was a whole 17 months (of rehab). Just going through that … finally a team took a chance, said they think I’m ready. I’m ready now. I’m excited to be with Memphis. It’s a good place to be. I left there on a good note. I’m coming back on a good note.”

Chalmers played seven seasons in Miami where he won two NBA titles, then after opening the 2015-16 season as a member of the Heat, was traded to Memphis where he ruptured his right Achilles on March 9, 2016. He’s been out ever since.

“I’ve been in Memphis working out trying to get ready. Ben and Wayne are with me in Memphis,” he said, referring to former KU players Ben McLemore and Wayne Selden. “We’ve got a little Jayhawk connection there.”

Fort Worth, Texas native Langford started his pro career with the San Antonio Spurs after playing four seasons at KU, then headed overseas where he’s made millions with teams in Russia, Israel, Italy and now China. A huge offseason acquisition, he’ll be asked to put up a lot of points this season.

“I’m a scorer. I can go out and average 15 rebounds a game and they are going to ask me, ‘Where are the points?’’’ Langford said. “At this point, that’s my job. I take pride (in scoring). I enjoy it, embrace it. One good thing (about playing in China) is their season ends early. There’s flexibility to jump back into Europe, if that’s what I want to do, maybe rest a little longer. I’m not as young as I used to be,” he added, smiling.

Chalmers’ foundation, which sponsored a VIP event Friday night at The Oread Hotel and the bowling on Saturday, will hold another event Monday — a golf tournament at The Jayhawk Club (formerly Alvamar).

“Mario is great. To come back and do this for the kids is big. For the KU family it’s always good to have him back in Lawrence,” said former KU guard Nick Bradford, the girls basketball coach at Olathe North who brought his family to the bowling event with former KU guard Jeff Hawkins.

“It’s great the love everybody shows him here,” added Bradford, who was hoping to have time to visit with Langford on Saturday as well. “Everything that Keith does here, everything Mario does here … it’s just great to have these guys back. They are great examples of doing everything the right way. They are proud to represent KU the right way on and off the court,” Bradford noted.

Gary Bedore: 816-234-4068, @garybedore

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