Jan. 14, 2011
BERKELEY, Calif. - Just like his Husky basketball teammates, Desmond Simmons shows up every day for practice, suits up for home and road games and experiences the elation of wins and the heartbreak of defeats. The only difference for the freshman from Vallejo, Calif. is that he knows there is a zero percent chance he'll see a minute of action on the court for the Huskies (12-4, 4-1 Pac-10).
So goes the life of a redshirt freshman.
The path he is following in his first year of college at Washington is not one that has been untraveled previously. All he needs to do is look up-and-down the bench to see redshirt role models. In each of the past four seasons, at least one Husky has redshirted - Darnell Gant in 2008, Tyreese Breshers in 2009 and C.J. Wilcox in 2010.
Although there is precedent before him, it does not make it any easier for Simmons.
"It's hard to watch, but I am learning a lot," said Simmons, who scored 2,017 points and grabbed 1,540 rebounds during his career at Salesian High School in Richmond. "As hard as it is to sit on the bench and want to get in so bad and go out there and do something, I learn a lot and get to see stuff from the bench that I wouldn't necessarily see if I was playing."
"I'm picking up on things and really learning how to play at this level...it's a big learning process for me."
A pre-season knee injury that required minor surgery and rehab was the last straw in his decision to redshirt. So, while he sits on the bench and is learning the intricacies of playing college basketball, he has also embarked on a mission to transform his body.
Simmons has packed on five pounds of muscle to his 6-foot-7 frame and is up to 215 pounds. Ideally, he will get up to 225 by time next season rolls around. With the added bulk, he will be counted on to pound with big guys down low next year. At the same time, the UW coach staff expect him to be a wing.
"I think [the coaches] want me to be more like a power-wing," said Simmons. "They want me to be a strong presence down low, but a wing as well."
Think Quincy Pondexter circa 2010.
Helping him get there is assistant coach Paul Fortier, who can help him understand the plays better and work on individual drills. Also, taking him under his wing is Darnell Gant - a fellow one-time redshirter and someone that also plays the `power-wing'.
"We shadow each other in practice," said Simmons of his relationship with Gant. "He has helped me a lot with showing me little things, pointing out little tips and pulling me aside with advice. If I'm ever down about something on the practice court he always tells me to let it go and keep playing."
When the Huskies take the court to face California on Sunday night at 7:00 p.m. and play in front of a national television audience on FSN, Simmons will be in his familiar spot at the end of the bench. But this time, it will be a little different. He'll have a little bit of a cheering section - albeit they know full well he won't get into the game.
This week's trip to the Bay Area puts him about 20 minutes away from home and affords him a chance to catch up with family and friends. He even plans on going back to Salesian on Friday night to see his former team play.
"It's always nice to come back home and play...well, not play this year," Simmons corrected himself. "It's just nice to come home, be with the team and see family."