Simmons learning transition game

by Murali Balaji

He came to Minnesota with a basketball pedigree, formerly one of the most highly touted high school players in the nation.
Naturally, for Gophers’ guard Terrance Simmons, the hardest words to accept were, “Wait your turn.”
But that phrase became a sort of mantra to the 6-foot-3 sophomore, who transferred to Minnesota after spending his freshman year at Louisiana State and struggled to adjust to the point guard position this season. The transition from a scorer’s mentality to one of a ball distributor has been especially difficult for Simmons.
“It has taken a little time,” Simmons said after the Gophers’ 84-82 loss to Michigan State. “After starting off really fast (10 points in the season opener), I just became too cautious and tried to do exactly what Coach (Clem Haskins) wanted me to do without messing up.”
Simmons was unaccustomed to difficulties on the basketball court in high school in Haughton, La., located near Shreveport. As a senior at Haughton High School, he was nearly unstoppable, averaging 29.1 points, 7.1 rebounds and 6.5 assists per game.
“Man, I used to have two or three guys defending me and I would still score,” Simmons said. “I was one of the best shooters in all of high school basketball.”
But his reputation didn’t earn Simmons respect — or playing time, for that matter — at Louisiana State. After toiling on the LSU bench for one season, Simmons transferred to Minnesota, where Haskins was more than willing to groom the explosive, spindly-legged player as the heir-apparent to Eric Harris.
“My coaches sold me on his athletic ability,” Haskins said. “What they saw was a player, in high school, who could score a lot of points and make a lot of shots.”
Simmons sat out the 1997-98 season as part of NCAA transfer rules, learning the offense while establishing a rapport with his future on-court mates. Haskins’ emphasis on blurring the roles between lead guard and shooting guard was intended to make it easier for Simmons to grasp the offense.
Early in the season, however, Simmons’ wariness of making mistakes, as well as back and knee problems, cost him his confidence and his starting job. The guard whom the local media compared to former Gophers star Bobby Jackson upon his arrival was now riding the bench, unable to prove to his teammates — and his detractors — he was worthy of his billing.
“(The knee injury in the second game) set me back,” Simmons said. “But I can’t blame it on my injuries. It was me — I just lost confidence.”
But Haskins acknowledged that he was partly to blame for Simmons’ loss of confidence.
“I put him in too quickly,” Haskins admitted. “It took Eric Harris four years to grow into his role. I expected Terrance Simmons to grow in a week.”
In practices, Haskins tried to develop Simmons quickly in order to provide a complement to the team’s three senior starters, guard Kevin Clark, forwards Quincy Lewis and Miles Tarver. His exhorting and aggressive style of explaining things initially hit Simmons the wrong way.
“I was listening to how he was saying things instead of what he was saying,” Simmons said. “I thought he was trying to embarrass me in practices, but then I realized that Coach was just trying to make me understand things better.”
“He couldn’t relate to my style of coaching,” Haskins said. “I’m an aggressive person by nature. He probably took that personally, and it’s my fault.”
But Simmons had allies that helped him withstand Haskins’ coaching style as well as his personal setbacks.
“My family has always been there for me,” Simmons said. “I talk to my parents twice a week.
“My family is a basketball family,” said Simmons, whose older brother and sister were star basketball players in high school. “They watch my games on satellite and can pinpoint everything I’m doing wrong.”
With his family providing emotional support, Simmons sought to regain his confidence and his form on the court.
“Kevin Clark and Miles Tarver gave me a lot of encouragement,” Simmons said. “The coaches, especially Coach (Bobby) Jones, told me I had to step up and play.”
The bond that Jones and Simmons developed was forged by the fact that Jones had played guard for Haskins at Western Kentucky. Jones said he understood the type of pressure Haskins puts on his guards.
“I just basically told Terrance that he can’t play the game worrying about making mistakes,” Jones said. “Terrance lost his confidence because we played the point guard position by committee. Sometimes, young players don’t understand why they don’t get playing time.
“I told Terrance not to worry about things he had no control over,” he added.
Simmons took Jones’ words to heart. He re-established himself in the starting role against Iowa and had a solid outing against Michigan State, despite seeing limited playing time. The last few weeks have been a stepping stone which Simmons hopes will vault his career to the level of the coaches’ and fans’ expectations.
“I’ve got to be vocal — that’s who I am,” Simmons said. “I’m stepping my play to show everyone the real Terrance Simmons.”