Desmond Simmons channels his energy
This story appeared in the Bay Area edition of the November ESPN RISE Magazine.
Desmond Simmons is always doing something on the basketball court. There's never a moment when the Salesian (Richmond, Calif.) senior forward fails to make an impact on the game.
It's been like that since he started playing as a 7-year-old. Simmons recalls running around the court without much direction but always going full bore, regardless.
"I just had that energy," says Simmons. "I did everything hard, and I could play all day."
Now a 6-foot-7, 215-pound pogo stick bound for the University of Washington next fall, Simmons still plays the same way -- with certain refinements. Instead of flying around aimlessly, he's crashing the offensive boards. Instead of hitting the floor with abandon, he's diving for loose balls. Instead of sprinting to a random destination, he's filling the lane on every fast break.
"His motor does not stop," says Salesian coach Bill Mellis. "He's a constant energy guy. Every aspect of the game, he never stops. That's what his game is built around, and that's why he's such a good player and a leader."
As a tireless jack-of-all-trades, he has a hand in everything Salesian does.
Offensively, Simmons can do a little bit of anything. With his size, he's able to go into the low post and produce high-percentage shots. He also excels at driving the ball from the perimeter, and his jump shot has range out to the 3-point line. Simmons offers NBA forward Boris Diaw as a popular comparison but warns of putting too much stock in one side of the court.
"There's more to the game than scoring," says Simmons. "That's just one part of the game. If you're just a scorer, then there are a lot of holes in your game."
Simmons backs up his words with his play on the defensive end. His tenacity comes in handy when he bodies up opponents, and his attitude makes him one of the state's best stoppers.
"You can't ask for anything more defensively," says Mellis. "He takes it personally when someone scores on him. That's probably the best part of his game."
With his height, Simmons is able to check forwards and centers in the paint, and his wingspan helps him challenge shots. He also has the quickness and agility to guard players on the perimeter and get into passing lanes.
Simmons' all-around game was never more evident than in last year's state championship. With the Division IV title on the line, he put up 31 points and 19 rebounds as Salesian pulled out a last-second, 65-64 victory.
As usual, Simmons left his fingerprints on the final play. After grabbing a defensive rebound with about eight seconds left and Salesian down by one, he dribbled up court but fumbled the ball away at the 3-point line. That could have been the end of the game, but Simmons didn't give up.
What happened next encapsulated the full Desmond Simmons experience, and also showed how far he's come since arriving at Salesian: The Simmons of three years ago probably wouldn't have come through.
"He used to get frustrated," says Mellis. "His first couple years at Salesian, Desmond was competitive almost to a fault. Teams could take him out of the game mentally."
"It was an adjustment," says Simmons. "In AAU, I could dominate and pretty much do whatever I wanted. I thought high school basketball would be easy, and I had a hard time adjusting when it wasn't."
As a freshman, Simmons couldn't get to the basket as effortlessly as he had in AAU ball, and he quickly found out that his handle and jumper weren't up to snuff. And while he was a willing defender, he had plenty to learn about the fundamentals. Attacking his flaws with the same energy he unleashes on the court, Simmons worked to get better in all areas of the game. He sharpened his dribbling, smoothed out the mechanics on his J and especially worked on controlling his emotions.
"I used to let bad plays affect me too much," says Simmons. "I'd be useless for the next minute. Every coach will tell you that the one play you let up is the play you'll get beat, and I truly believe that. Now I'm mentally stronger. I know missing a jump shot isn't the end of the world."
That's why Simmons didn't give up when he lost the ball on the final possession of the state championship game. Instead, he did what he does best. He chased down the loose ball (beating out a pair of Bishop Montgomery players) and dished it to teammate Jabari Brown. Brown then hit Kendall Andrews underneath for the game-winner as time expired.
More than the 31 points and 19 rebounds, that play was the real Desmond Simmons.
"It felt so good to win the state championship because of the way we won it," says Simmons. "I feel like we were the hardest-working team in the state, and in the end it proved that hard work pays off."
It's fitting that Simmons is the leader of the hardest-working crew on hardwood. The Salesian team is built in his frenetic image, and his nonstop energy and hustle rub off on his teammates. And if you ask Simmons, the Pride aren't going to ease up until they win another title this season.
"I'm very confident that we can go back and win another state championship," says Simmons. "With this group of guys, I know we'll do whatever it takes."
For Simmons, that's not even a question. He never stops.
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