Dec. 5, 2012
By Gregg Bell - UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - Get this: Desmond Simmons is too good to start for the Huskies.
He's too valuable. Too gritty. Provides too much contagious energy as the first one off coach Lorenzo Romar's bench.
That is why the 6-foot-7, all-out sophomore -- the only other Husky besides Jon Brockman to grab 18 rebounds in a game since Romar arrived at UW in 2002 -- will remain the indispensible sixth-man for Washington (4-3) Saturday against Nevada (4-3) at Alaska Airlines Arena.
"Desmond and I spoke about this. It's not about him being the best out there as to why he's not starting," Romar said. "He brings us unbelievable energy off the bench. He picks us up right away when he is out there and when he's doing his job.
"He's playing a lot of minutes (27.1 per game, behind only 7-footer Aziz N'Diaye's 32.1 among UW big men). He's not getting beat out. It's just in the makeup of our team and in team chemistry he gives us a great lift that way."
A key to the Huskies "staying afloat," as Romar has been calling it with low-post force Shawn Kemp Jr. yet to play this season and senior co-captain Scott Suggs also out due to injury, is finding someone other than N'Diaye to rebound.
They've found him.
Simmons played 32 minutes off the depleted bench last weekend against Cal State Fullerton, more than N'Diaye or starter Abdul Gaddy (leg cramps), and had a career high-tying 14 points with those 18 rebounds. Sure, C.J. Wilcox again led Washington with 21 points. But the Huskies would not have rallied for 14 down and won 74-72 if Simmons had not done just about everything else.
"Brockman-esque," is how Romar described Simmons' night against Fullerton.
Yes, the name of UW's all-time leading rebounder and soul of the team a few years ago.
And after the game, Romar was calling Simmons "Brock."
That fits. Brockman and Simmons are the only Huskies to have at least 18 rebounds in a game since 1999.
"It's him just getting lost in the game and just going after it," Romar said of Simmons' rebounding rampage.
It's not every day on every team that a high-school star as accomplished at Simmons not just accepts being out of the starting lineup but thrives with it. Simmons was an all-state player at California's Salesian High School. He was the All-East Bay player of the year for the Richmond school in 2009 and '10. He led a young team to a 31-4 record and the state Division IV title as a junior in 2009 by scoring 31 points and snaring 19 rebounds in the championship game.
"It takes a special individual," Romar said of Simmons checking his ego for his team.
Those are among the best, most important players Romar has had in his 11 seasons at Washington.
Simmons shrugs off the heroism and selflessness of coming off the bench yet still contributing front-line results.
Turns out, his coach at Salesian High School saw the same instant-energy value in Simmons that Romar sees now.
"There were some games my coach had me come off the bench in high school," Simmons said.
"My attitude has always been about winning."
He grabbed four rebounds in a career-high 35 minutes in the loss to Colorado State on Nov. 24, a night in which UW was out-rebounded 45-21. It was the only game Simmons has started this year, incidentally, and he chastised himself after it for not giving more on the glass.
But there was only so much Simmons could give last month. He played throughout it with badly sprained index and middle fingers. They throbbed throughout games on his right, shooting hand.
"I felt a lot better, lot healthier, this last game," he said, "and the game before that (a 66-61 win over Saint Louis in which he had five rebounds in 18 minutes)."
Brockman and Simmons have played against each other in Seattle pickup games; "he is a load to rebound against," Simmons said. The current Husky said the former one has shown him tricks on how to snare rebounds off missed free throws by out-maneuvering opponents in the lane.
During the flow of play, Simmons has a method to his glass work.
"I don't even worry about the guy who is trying to box me out," he said. "My thing is I like to take two steps and check the flight of the ball. My teammates have told me that sometimes they feel like they have me boxed out but it's almost like I knew it was going there.
"I feel like I am pretty good at reading the ball."
Pretty good at wanting it, too.
"A lot of it is instincts," Romar said. "Desmond drives our guys crazy in practice (rebounding)."
Romar says Simmons has the instinct to judge a shot and not just move but sprint toward a spot near the basket - and the ability to then change directions of that sprint as he sees the ball get close to the rim. He can do all that before an opponent realizes where Simmons has gone.
"That's instinctive rebounding. Desmond has that," Romar said. "Not everybody has that. That's a gift. Jon had it."
Simmons is not just accomplished as a rebounder. He is shooting 50 percent from the field.
And he is a skilled drawer.
Simmons wanted to major in art at UW, but most of the classes in that program are in the evening when the Huskies are often either practicing or playing. So the 3.2 student in high school recently declared his major as anthropology, because "I like exploring indigenous people and indigenous rights."
On the court, he makes constant efforts that statistics don't measure but coaches love. He often chases down loose balls in the corner to save possessions. He's usually the first Husky barreling onto the floor for balls rolling free. He cuts off drives to the rim. He provides help-side defense in brick-wall fashion.
So, yes, Simmons makes so many winning plays he could easily start for the Huskies - or just about any team - as a reward. And Romar did start him for 11 consecutive games in the middle of last season.
But the coach sees the instantaneous jolt he gives the Huskies off the bench, sees how contagious his energy is to the entire team. So he's keeping him in that role.
That's more than fine with Simmons.
"My attitude is winning," he said. "Whether I am coming off the bench or starting, I just want to help the team win."
INSIDE THE DAWGS: Kemp was on the court doing light running and shooting drills Tuesday for the first time since surgery last month to repair a torn patella tendon. Romar said Kemp has to practice more fully for two consecutive days before he may be able to make his season debut. But Kemp says he has felt well enough the last two weeks to believe he will play Saturday. ... Suggs will also try to return to practice later this week. He hasn't played since scoring 11 points Nov. 18 in the loss to Ohio State because of a severe sprain in the arch of his foot. ... Nevada beat UW in Reno last season 76-73 in an overtime game Romar still remembers for how the Huskies controlled it but gave it up at the end. The Wolf Pack return a pair of 1,000-point scorers, Deonte Burton and Mailk Story. Burton scored 31 against the Huskies last November. Romar doesn't think that loss will provide the Huskies extra motivation for Saturday. "We have more things to be motivated by than what happened last year," Romar said, mentioning the needs to start games better and for more team-wide rebounding.