He is starting to show Tiger fans exactly why
SAN DIEGO — In practice his teammates see it all the time. Aamir Simms takes the basketball, glides up the court and then makes a spectacular dunk.
They had been waiting for him to do it in a game all season, but the true freshman from Virginia always passed up the opportunity. However, when he caught the basketball just above his own foul line as New Mexico State was try to deny the Tigers’ guards the ball in the second half, no one was on the 6-foot-7, 237-pound Simms.
So Simms finally did what he has always done in practice. He took the ball up the middle of the court and did a thunderous jam, igniting the nearly 11,000 fans packed into Viejas Arena Friday during Clemson’s first-round win in the NCAA Tournament.
“He is a very special player. He is very talented,” Clemson center Elijah Thomas said.
Simms gave Clemson fans a glimpse of what the future will look like for the next few years, regardless of what happens in tonight’s second-round game against Auburn in the Midwest Regional in San Diego.
“He came in this way. He came in dominating from the get go,” Thomas said. “When you are younger it just takes time. With him, he has been very patient. He has never been too high or too low. Every time he has got his opportunity he has done his job.”
And that is not always easy for a freshman under head coach Brad Brownell. The Tigers’ head coach stresses defense and he expects everyone who plays for him to be able defend at a high level. If they cannot, they do not play.
Because most college basketball players played AAU basketball, playing defense is an afterthought. AAU basketball is all about athleticism and offensive skill, rarely are they coached to play defense.
So the adjustment from high school and AAU to college takes time, especially when playing for a defensive minded coach. However, that has not been the case for Simms.
“The thing with Aamir is that Coach B actually recruited him so in high school, he was already a step ahead of playing defense more than what a normal AAU player is accustomed to playing,” Thomas said. “So I guess that gives him a higher level of success when he comes here, plus the learning and teaching he is getting from Coach Brownell makes it easier on him.”
When Clemson’s star forward and senior leader Donte Grantham tore his ACL in his right knee earlier this season, Simms stepped and has filled in admirably. He has not developed, just yet, to the level Grantham was at, but he has come in and made big plays and has consistently been productive.
In the Tigers’ win over Notre Dame on Jan. 20, the game in which Grantham was injured, Simms hit a late three-pointer from the right corner to seal his team’s victory over the Irish. In his first game as a starter at Virginia, he scored nine points and has since averaged 6.1 points and 4.5 rebounds per game as Grantham’s replacement.
Three times he has scored 10 points, his career high, and at Syracuse he grabbed a career-high nine rebounds.
“At the beginning of the season I was just trying to learn the offense, where to be and what plays to make and what plays not to make,” said Simms, who has started 11 of the 14 games since Grantham went down. “As the season went along, Donte has been tremendous in helping me on and off the court about what to do and what not to do. Now, as the season has gone on, now I am more confident and ready to play the game.”
Brownell says Simms plays beyond his years, which he credits to his maturity. He says the freshman is more mature than most kids his age, both physically and mentally.
“For big guys that’s a challenge to be able to handle the physicality and speed of the game, especially in the ACC as a freshman,” the Clemson coach said. “All you have to do is look at him and see that’s not a big challenge for him, but he is also a very mature young man.
“He went to boarding school for a couple of years and really, I think, grew up quickly up there. He is bright. He picks things up quickly. He’s a leader. He has an unbelievable outgoing personality that just attracts people and because of that he’s a confidence giver. He is an energy giver. He’s really special that way.”
And all of that, in terms of his personality, has allowed Simms to be mature enough to handle whatever is throw at him. Plus, he has finally shown off how well he can dunk the basketball, too.
“Obviously, we’re blessed that he’s with us,” Brownell said.