The Washington countdown continues with the No. 8 player on our list — Desmond Simmons.
He’s still a bit of a mystery to Husky fans because he red shirted last season after undergoing right knee surgery before the season.
Simmons was a four-star recruit rated by Scout (ESPN and Rivals considered him a three-star prospect) coming out of Salesian High School in Richmond, Calif. where he posted a 32-3 record as a senior. He had Oregon State and Saint Mary’s on his final list of schools.
It remains to be seen how the 6 foot 7, 220-pound forward fits into the mix because he’s the type of player that it’s difficult to put into a box. Admittedly Simmons is unorthodox. He’s undersized to play in the post, but he overcomes the size disparity against taller opponents with hustle, grit and tenacity.
The Huskies lack experienced depth in the front court and they need someone willing to do the dirty work beneath the rim, defend and rebound. Simmons will likely compete for backup minutes in the front court with freshmen Shawn Kemp Jr., Martin Breunig and Jernard Jarreau.
Coach Lorenzo Romar has described Simmons as a “junkyard dog,” while others have said he’s a bigger version of former UW stars Quincy Pondexter or Bobby Jones. Simmons has acknowledged he’s a hybrid type of player whose role is difficult to define.
“For me soft is no part of my nature,” Simmons said. “So I’m not going to allow my teammates to take on that. If I feel like we’re being soft in any area, I’ll be the first one to speak up and tell the guys we got to pick it up.”
In the past year, Simmons has gained 15 pounds and he may lose the knee brace that’s been wrapped around his right leg the past year. He said he’s fully healthy and anxious to make his Washington debut, a year later than expected.
Here’s a transcript of a recent interview with Simmons.
(How competitive do things get in in the open run?) “We get real competitive. Everybody on the team wants to win. It’s kind of like bragging rights for the day. Who gets the most wins for the day. So everybody competes.”
(Who’s the most competitive person on the team?) “Me.”
(Why is that?) “It’s just in my nature as far as being competitive. I don’t feel like anybody can compete harder than me.”
(Where does that come from?) “It’s kind of my upbringing. I had older brothers who always challenged me and I always stepped up to show them I can do this and that. So it made me competitive.”
(How does that manifest itself on the court?) “Just in going for loose balls, offensive rebounds and deflections. Coach Romar uses a term putting out fires and helping other guy on the defense and being active on the court. That’s how it translates.”
(What did this summer do for you?) “For me this summer really was about getting back into the groove of things. Sitting out pretty much the whole season trying to rehab my knee this summer I was really trying to get back into the flow of things. Get everything back to speed to where it was last summer. That was my main focus.”
(Did you rediscover yourself or anything like that?) “Not really. I worked on things I’ve been trying to work on and get better at. I wouldn’t say I rediscovered anything or found something new just trying to get better at things I’ve been working on.”
(What are those things?) “Mid-range jump shot. Getting bigger. Getting stronger. Ball handling. Things of that nature. Those things have been my main focus for the most part.”
(Since you got here last summer, how much weight have you put on?) “I got here last summer at about 210. Now I’m around 222 or 225. I’m trying to stay there and be pretty consistent.”
(Are you better now than you were last year?) “I would say so. I know a whole lot more than I did last year. I’m definitely better than I was last year in many ways.”
(So your basketball IQ has improved?) “Definitely basketball IQ and knowing what to expect. Coming in as a freshman, you don’t really know what to expect. Now after going through a whole year, I know exactly what to expect. What the coaches want. They say 90 percent of the game is mental and the mental side is going to be a whole lot better. Physically on the court I’m stronger. I’m a little more faster. The jump shot is better than it was last year.”
(How do you think you’ll feel in your first game?) “I’m pretty sure I’ll have butterflies. When I run out before the game, I’ll have butterflies. But tend to normally shake those things out. Those don’t really bother me to where my hands get sweaty and I can’t focus. I might get a little antsy when I get on the court, but I don’t think it will affect me to where I won’t be able to perform.”
(Can you simulate the game-day experience in practice or during the offseason?) “It’s totally unique. I don’t think there’s any way you can simulate it. Once you step on that court and you got 10,000 people cheering for you and yelling and this and that. I think the only way you can simulate it is being in a game.”
(Do you miss it?) “Definitely. Last year I was sitting on the edge of my seat wanting to get in.”
(What’s your role this season?) “I think I bring a competitive edge. That hard-nosed, get-after guy. I feel like I pick up the energy. I get on the court and bring energy. I feel like my main part will be energy and being tough on the court. I think I bring a lot of toughness out there.”
(Some may label the Huskies soft because you guys have a lot of jump shooters, but Romar believes you and Aziz N’Diaye will not let UW become a soft team.) “That’s very true. For me soft is no part of my nature. So I’m not going to allow my teammates to take on that. If I feel like we’re being soft in any area, I’ll be the first one to speak up and tell the guys we got to pick it up. Like I said, it’s in my nature. I can’t really explain how or why.”
(But there’s a lot of jump shooters on your squad with pretty shots?) “We do. We do. But in the heat of the battle, if I feel like we got to bang and get down and dirty, I feel like we’re going to do it. I don’t have any doubt about that. If we got to get dirty and get, I’m not going to allow us not to be able to do that.”
(Are you big enough to play inside?) “I feel like I am. I have all of the confidence in the world. If I have to guard Aziz, then I’ll guard Aziz. I don’t feel like I’m too light at all. I worked hard in the weight room this year so I don’t feel like I’m too light at all.”
(How did you do in the mile test?) “In the mile I did pretty good. I got 5:23.”
(Did you wear the brace when you ran the mile?) “Without.”
(But you’re wearing the brace for the open runs.) “It’s just temporary. (Trainer) Pat (Jenkins) said we’re going to wear it at practice and take it off that first weekend (of practice) and see how it goes. If it feels good, I’ll be done with it.”
(Do you feel any pain in your knee?) “No I’m fine. I played so much on it and for the most part I’ve played without the brace. It’s no problem at all.”
(I’ve asked you before, but I’ll do it again. Who has surprised you the most so far?) “Of the new guys I would say Jernard (Jarreau) because a lot of the talk was he’s skinny and he can’t do this or he can’t do that. Or that he’ll need to put on 20 or whatever pounds. For me he’s held his own. He’s battled. He’s blocked Aziz’s shot. He’s banging with Aziz. You look at him and Aziz and you’d think Aziz would just bury him under the basket. But he’s fighting and he’s held his own. So he surprised me in that aspect as far as people thinking he wasn’t strong enough.”
(And the returners?) “I feel like everybody is doing well. I feel like DG (Darnell Gant) has probably taken on a little more of the leadership role. He’s stepping up and really being that leader. Scott is probably the most surprising. Everybody knows Scott is like the clown of the team, but he’s stepped up a lot in the captain role. He’s taken on the leadership and I feel like he’s doing a good job.”
(What are you looking to?) “I’m looking forward to that first game. Seriously. That’s the only thing I’m thinking about is that first game.”
(The exhibition game or the season-opener?) “The exhibition game.”
(Who is it against) “I don’t know.”
(Do you know the date?) “I haven’t looked at the schedule like that.”
(But you said you’re looking forward to it.) “Whoever it is, whenever we play I’m looking forward to it.”