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June 11, 2014 at 3:34 PM

Desmond Simmons opens up on transferring

After four years and three seasons with the Washington Huskies, Desmond Simmons is transferring and will finish his college career at St. Mary's. (Photo credit:  Ethan Miller - Getty Image)

After four years and three seasons with the Washington Huskies, Desmond Simmons is transferring and will finish his college career at St. Mary’s. (Photo credit: Ethan Miller – Getty Image)

Been meaning to post this for awhile. Had a chance to sit down with Desmond Simmons and talk about his reasons for leaving Washington.

The 6-7 forward, who redshirted as a freshman, surprised many after the 2013-14 season when he announced he’s leaving the Huskies. He’ll graduate from UW in a few weeks and will transfer to St. Mary’s where he’ll have one year of eligibility.

Simmons figures to play a prominent role with the Gaels who also landed former Stanford standout guard Aaron Bright. The new additions should help ease the sting of losing six seniors and help St. Mary’s contend for a spot in the NCAA tournament.

During an injury-plagued, three-year career, Simmons averaged 4.7 points and 5.4 rebounds while developing a reputation as a rugged rebounder and defensive-oriented player.

The three-star recruit from Salesian High in Vallejo, Calif. redshirted the 2009-10 season after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right knee during the offseason.

He averaged 4.2 points, 4.8 rebounds and 17.8 minutes as a redshirt freshman while starting 11 of 35 games during the 2011-12 season.

As a sophomore, Simmons averaged 4.9 points, 6.5 rebounds and 23.9 minutes while starting 14 of 34 games during the 2012-13 season.

Simmons missed the first 10 games this season due to arthroscopic surgery on his right knee. When he returned, he averaged 5.2 points, 4.6 rebounds and 20.3 minutes while starting 10 of 22 games.

In a wide-ranging interview, Simmons spoke openly about the stigma of transferring and the impact the rising number of transfers has had on college basketball. He also expects Washington will finish near the top of the Pac-12 next season.

(Why did you leave Washington?) “I just felt like after this year, in my opinion, I pretty much kind of envisioned what next year was going to be like for me. I thought it was going to be similar to this past season. I was looking to go somewhere where I feel like I can be more involved on both ends of the court, a little bit more offensively involved. I feel like – in my opinion – next year wasn’t going to be too much different from the past previous years. I guess that’s why (I’m leaving) now. And I don’t have to sit out a year.”

(Did it feel like high school all over again in terms of the recruiting?) “It was a little bit more crazier than high school. It was a lot more crazy. In high school, I didn’t get 20 offers in two weeks. I had a lot of offers. It was surprising to me because I didn’t think it was going to be that big. I didn’t think I’d get recruited that much. I knew there were a few schools that were interested and contacted my AAU coach back home, but as far as being hit up by schools on the west coast, schools down south and in the midwest, I was a little bit shocked.”

(Twenty offers. Seriously?) “Honestly it might have been more. I can name about 10-15 right off the top of my head. And probably a few more that I didn’t pay a lot of attention to because I knew I wasn’t going to go there. There are a lot of schools that called and messaged me or called my AAU coaches. Some schools were just out of the question because they were too far or I just didn’t know enough about them, but they called my AAU coach and said they were interested and they were going to offer.”

(I find this topic fascinating. I’m not sure when you entered college if this secondary recruiting period had been as prominent as it is now. Spring has now become an important recruiting season for upperclassmen who intend to transfer. I know old-school coaches hate it.) “They hate the transferring process?”

(I think they hate what it’s done to the game. They call transfers free-agents as if it’s a bad thing. It’s just a new deal they have to come to grips with. Just the fact that you said it was crazier than when you were in high school that’s insightful.” “It was pretty hectic.”

(Is it because of the short time frame?) “That might be it. I think that has a lot to do with it. The short time frame. In high school, you  have four years. That’s a long time compared to 2-3 months. Maybe four months. Four months it’s like June by then. So 2-3 months to try and win a kid over. It’s pretty hectic, I’ll be honest with you.”

(How many visits did you take?) “I went on three visits. I visited St. Mary’s when I was back home. I visited Santa Barbara and I visited New Mexico. That was the only three schools.”

(I understand the connection you  have with former UW assistants at two of those schools (Jim Shaw at St. Mary’s and Lamont Smith at New Mexico), but what was it with Santa Barbara?) “They recruited me out of high school. My AAU coach spoke highly of their coach. I have an older brother who is a GA (graduate assistant) at (Cal State) Northridge and he knew the team very well to well he advised me to strongly check them out. I was a little familiar with the program to begin with. That’s why I gave them a shot.”

(What was it about St. Mary’s that you liked?) “Coach (Randy) Bennett, me and him have had a pretty good relationship over the years. He recruited me in high school. It was either St. Mary’s, Washington and Oregon State. They might have had the edge over Oregon State. I really liked him coming out of high school even though I didn’t decide to go there. When I came back home over the summers, I worked out at their practice gym. I saw him around. He was never like awww man. He never gave me the cold shoulder. He welcomed me. He was very friendly with me and there was never any bad blood between the two of us. I respected that because I know some coaches they can be like, oh you didn’t come here so their attitude changes.”

(Like screw you?) “Yeah exactly. Because of that, I was able to get to know him (Bennett) over the years. So when I decided to transfer, he was very excited and tried to get me.”

(How do you think you fit in with the Gaels?) “I think I fit in because watching them play, they don’t play the traditional two guards and two bigs on the block. They space it out a lot. They do a lot of 4-out, 1-in with their offense. Defensively, I talked to their coaches and it’s so similar because Shaw knows (Lorenzo) Romar and coach Bennett knows Romar. They’re so familiar with our defense they were able to tell me that a defensive transition would be almost identical to how we play here. I think that’s a good thing. I don’t have to worry about trying to learn a new defense. And then offensively, I think it can be helpful for me.”

(How would sum up your four years at Washington?) “Definitely up and down. I had to battle injuries, which was the first time every in my athletic life. I’ve been playing sports since I was five and I’ve never had a serious injury. And I’ve had two surgeries since I’ve been in college in four years. Battling that was definitely something that was knew for me. Basketball-wise, I took a lot from basketball. I don’t want to make it seem like I’m transferring and I hated it here. Nah, that’s not it at all. I had a good experience basketball wise. There were some goals that I had set for myself that I didn’t meet and that is what it is. But I learned a lot from the coaches. I’ve learned a lot from Coach Romar and I still continue to learn a lot. We still talk a lot. I learned a lot from this program. I got my degree, which is huge. Walking away from this, I don’t walk away with a bitter feeling or anything like that. I definitely look back and realize that I got a lot out of this experience.”

(I talked to Romar and asked him why you’re leaving and said if Washington had more postseason success then you probably wouldn’t leave. Is that accurate?) “Yeah. I would say that could be part of it. When I made my decision, it wasn’t solely based on we didn’t go to the tournament last year or this year. Although I’ve always wanted to play in the tournament, so that is a goal of mine. I guess you can say looking back on it if we would have went to the tournament I might feel a little differently. That’s kind of a what if and you can do that all day long.”

(Good point. What’s your high moment from the past four years?) “I would say when I had 18 rebounds that was definitely a high for me. Eighteen rebounds is huge. That’s the one that sticks out to me.”

(That’s the one that sticks out to me too. Five years from now when people ask me about Desmond Simmons at Washington, I’ll bring up that 18 rebounds against Cal State Fullerton. I think it was the most since Jon Brockman.) “Definitely. That’s a high moment in my career. I think I had 19 in high school, but it’s not in college.”

(What’s the low moment?) “The low moment would be my injuries. My freshman year it was like ‘Oh my God.’ You come in ready to play right away, working out and trying to get acclimated to everything.  Having an injury my freshman year, it set me back at the worst time. It was a time when we were doing individuals. You’re breaking down the defense. You’re learning it step by step. I had to sit out through that. Then I had to sit out the first the two weeks of practice where everybody is learning how practice goes. By the time I come back, everybody knows the defense. Everybody is full go in practice to where there is no more baby steps. I come in with a disadvantage and I feel like that set me back. I feel like that was my low, my injuries.”

(What was the hardest part about transferring? Did you go back and forth in the decision-making process) “Yes. I did. I went back and forth.”

(Was there a defining moment? Did you know before the season?) “I didn’t know before the season. I told Coach Romar because there were rumors that had gotten out that I was thinking about transferring towards the end of the season. I started to think about it kind of towards the Pac-12, the beginning of the Pac-12 season. It was definitely early in the Pac-12 season where I wasn’t playing a lot. I was coming back off of an injury, but there was frustration on both ends. I was second-guessing myself and thinking maybe I’m not healthy enough to where he’s not playing me. Then it’s like, well the trainer says I’m healthy enough so maybe that isn’t it. Just the beginning of the Pac-12 season it started to enter my mind. I started talking to my mentors back home about it. They asked me how serious was I and if I had any doubt about leaving then I should stay. But if you’re 100 percent sure you want to leave, then you should definitely leave. It was on my mind throughout the season, but I didn’t let it turn me into a jerk.  Like man, I’m out of here so I’m not going to practice hard or I’m going to shoot whatever shot because I’m leaving anyway.”

(I’m not at practice, but I’ve never sensed any of that from the games I saw.) “Yeah. I didn’t let it have that affect on purpose because I know that it can. If you entertain it too much, it can turn you down that path to where you’re just kind of like whatever I’m out of here anyway. It was on my mind, but I still had the same mindset of OK, let’s see if it works. Play as hard as you can. Finish the season out as best as you can. And at the end of the day, then we’ll access staying or leaving.”

(After Washington last game in the Pac-12 Tournament did you know that was your last game?) “After that loss it kind of hit me in the locker room. As the clock was going down, I remember I was standing on the side and I was kind of just like ‘Man this is it.’ It ran across my mind this is my last time wearing a U-Dub jersey. Then going in the locker room I was thinking about man I might not be here next year.”

(I don’t know how these things work? Do you talk to the team and tell them? Do you tell the coaching staff?) “Because I made my decision when I was back home at spring break, I had to call coach Romar and tell him. I’m not sure how he handled it. To this day, I still don’t know whether he had the guys together right before spring workouts and said Dez is not going to be here anymore. I don’t know how that worked out. When I got back people already knew. When I made the post on Instagram and Twitter, some of my teammates found out that way.”

(By the way, that post was somewhat vague. I didn’t quite get it at first. I was like, OK I think I know what this means but I don’t want to make an inaccurate assumption.) “Yeah, I know. I didn’t it to sound like thanks U-Dub, but I’m out. I didn’t want it to sound too, you know. So I tried to be careful about how I chose my words on that post. I didn’t want to be like thanks U-Dub, but I’m not coming back. But my phone started ring as soon as I made that post. I was getting calls from my coaches back home about schools. I didn’t know schools follow you on Twitter. Schools on Twitter was calling my coaches back home and they were blowing me up. It was kind of like wildfire.”

(How did it go over with your teammates?) “We have a very lax and goofy group. It’s been like, they give me a hard time still about me leaving. But I think it’s all being funny because that’s just how we are. I don’t any of it is like …”

(Mean spirited?) “Yeah. I don’t think it’s like ‘Awww, you’re leaving so don’t come workout here anymore.’ Or you’re not invited to open gym anymore. I think they just have their fun with it as far as giving me a hard time. When I first came back I was a little wondering how they were going to respond to it as far as like are they going to not say much. But they were pretty cool for the most part.”

(And it’s not as if you’re the first person to transfer.) “Yeah. It happens all the time. Coaches leave. Players leave. The first week I caught a lot of ‘Why are you leaving?’ A lot of people were upset and questioning me and asking why would you do that?”

(On Twitter? Are these fans?) “Fans. I would be around U-Dub and see a faculty member or a student they would be like why are you leaving? There’s certain people – and I’m not going to say any names – but they would be like I can’t believe you’re leaving. Why are you leaving? They were upset in the sense of it was a selfish move on my end to leave U-Dub. A lot of people took it like I was being selfish for leaving. That part probably got under my skin more than anything else.”

(Well transferring still has a stigma to it. Do you think it’s ever going to change? “As far as it being negative?”

(Yeah.) “Like how you said old-school coaches hate it, that’s kind of what keeps the stigma going. The way they view it. Under certain circumstances it can be to where you didn’t give it a shot.”

(But you’ve been here four years.) “Yeah. In my situation I don’t think it’s one bit of anything like that. I feel like I gave it plenty of shots.”

(Granted. But if you leave after four weeks, then maybe you didn’t really give it a shot.) “Yeah, if you leave after four weeks it could be that. But there’s two sides to every story. You can leave after four weeks and you  might see something right away, you might catch something right away and be like this ain’t going to work. My friend Jabari Brown he left Oregon. I talked to him about it. He recognized it right away that this is not going to work for me. He went to Missouri and he had a great run at Missouri. Who’s to say that he wasn’t right on about it. If you look at it like a timetable and you didn’t give it enough time, then that may not be the right way to look at it. You only have 4-5 years to make this work. That’s not a lot of time. If you recognize something in a coach, especially a head coach, as soon as you get on campus and you weren’t expecting any of that. Now I understand if he’s getting on you. If it’s like you have to have thick skin and he’s just trying to coach you. But if it’s a fit thing or a system thing to all of a sudden, he’s not allowing you to do what he told you he wanted you to come there and do. And you recognize that right away, you see that and you’re like I have to get out of here and I’m not going to waste any time here. I don’t see anything wrong with that.”

(I understand that. What vision do you have for yourself as a basketball player? I was never clear on it. I think I know what type of player you are, but I could be way off. So what do see for yourself?)  “You want to me scout myself?”

(Earlier you  said you weren’t sure how you would be used if you stayed. I think of you as a hustle and energy guy. Someone that you don’t call a lot of plays for. I think of you as post player and never quite understood how you fit in the high-post offense. I liked the little baseline jumper you showed last year. But I also thought when you arrived, your ceiling was Quincy Pondexter. Would you ever get there? I don’t know. Could you handle the ball like Quincy? I don’t know? Could you shoot like Quincy and one day defend NBA-caliber shooting guards? I don’t know. But that was my take on your abilities. What’s your take on your game?) “Coming into college when I was 18-years-old what I envisioned for myself – and I talked to coaches when I got here – I wanted to be at this time a player like Quincy and Solomon Hill type of player.”

(Solomon Hill. That’s a good example.) “This was coming into my freshman year. I told them I wanted to be able to expand my game. I am what I am right now, but I want to be a player that can guard the four man, guard the three man, guard the two man and be able to play on the perimeter and on the block if they need me to. I want to be able to play inside-out. I want to be that player that you can put him anywhere and he can survive. I wasn’t that player at 18. I wanted to become that player. Development wise, I felt like I didn’t get the development to become that player here.”

(Is that because they needed you inside?) “If that was the case, I guess. My thing was coming in I wanted them to have an investment in me to where we want to make him as good as he wants to be. I’m a gym rat. I’m in the gym 24/7. Before practice. After practice. That’s me. My thing was I don’t mind putting in the work. I’ll put in as much work as I have to to be great. I just need somebody to work with me. I want you guys to be as invested as I am as far as working with me and helping me evolve into this player.”

(Did you put the work into it?) “Like I said, I’m a gym rat. I worked on my game. I felt like I wasn’t put in the positions to grow. I felt like the positions I was put into offensively – like you said – you don’t have to call plays for me. I’m not saying Coach Romar never gave me an iso and never called a pick-and-pop play for me. I’m not saying that at all. And I never had a beef with that. My thing was I just felt like I was in a position where I didn’t have a lot opportunities to do things that fit me best. I’m an undersized post man. I’m not a back-to-the-basket kind of player. I’m more of a face-up type of player. There isn’t a lot of face-up options in the high post. You’re either catching it or ducking in on the block. Most of the time you’re ducking in if you’re posting up. That’s now I play. If I’m on the block, I’m going to try to pop up off the block so I can be in my comfort zone to where I feel comfortable playing. In the offense we had, I didn’t have those opportunities.”

(Like I said, I liked the mid-range baseline jumper you sank a few times this season. Was that shot a product of the offense or just playing?) “A lot of it came out of when teams were in zone and just running the baseline.”

(So it sounds as if your vision of yourself didn’t mesh with the team’s going forward?) “No. I don’t think so.”

(In terms of Washington next season what are your thoughts?) “I think they can be really good next year. A lot of people entered the (NBA) draft from the Pac-12 from what I’ve seen. A lot of good players. I think Washington can be definitely a top 3-4 team in that league easily. They should be. That’s not saying oh they surprised everybody. I would not be surprised if Washington was a top 3-4 team in the Pac-12.”

(Really. Why?) “They have a lot of good players on that team. I feel like outside of having the players, the chemistry part was very lacking on this team. This team chemistry-wise was very low.”

(Wow. I’m surprised to hear that.) “Yeah. As far as trying to be a championship team, everybody has to be clicking. And I felt like there was a lot of spaced out and we’re not on the same page. And it happened too much. I understand a few times. A couple of possessions you’re not on the same page, but it just seemed like we were not on the same page a lot. And I think going into next year, they have a lot of good pieces to be a great team. I just hope everything else that comes with being a great team besides just having the talent and the pieces, I hope everything else comes together with the team commraderie and the people selling out to just wanting to win. All the stuff that comes with being a great team, a championship team. If that comes together and with the pieces and talent that they have, I think they’ll be a great team.”

(I hear, but then I think how can the Huskies improve when they lose their glue-guy. I think that invariable you described is what you bring to the table. There’s some guys who feed off of energy and there’s guys who create energy. I think you’re a guy who gives energy. And this team needs more guys like that.) “I know exactly what you’re saying. I feel like that’s why some people, they expressed the same thing to me. That part was very valuable and they felt that they were losing that because I left. I totally understand that. I think they’ll be fine.”

(You know in hindsight, I think you got pigeonholed in the Bobby Jones comparison. We saw Bobby come through and what he did and assumed you could do the same thing.) “I talked to coach about it. It was Bobby’s senior year where he shot like 50 percent from three. I heard that tons. I actually saw Bobby about a week ago. I heard it a lot. Everybody’s story is different. It would be cool if mine was similar to his. We’ll see.”

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