Simpkins shooting from heart Terps senior inspired by mother's memory

January 20, 1996|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- Duane Simpkins wore his emotions on his sleeve when he arrived at Maryland in 1992 as a brash member of coach Gary Williams' pivotal recruiting class.

Four years later, still confident but less outspoken, the senior point guard wears those emotions on his left shoulder.

They are unmistakable in the red heart and the words "I love you Mom." As tattoos go, this one is straight from the heart.

"I got it early last summer," Simpkins said yesterday. "I got it mainly because I was going to dedicate myself to being as ready as I possibly could for the basketball season. I wanted to dedicate the season to my mother.

"It's a constant reminder to me to keep working and things will work out, whether in basketball or anything else."

The tattoo is also a reminder of what he has lost. His mother, Olivia, died of breast cancer when he was 9 years old. Simpkins still is recovering from that blow.

"I'm 21 now, and I couldn't tell you how I got through it," he said. "A couple of years straight, there was not a night I didn't cry."

For Simpkins, the inspiration behind the tattoo has helped him cope with the Terps' disappointing season. Maryland (7-6, 0-3) reaches another crossroads today at noon when it faces North Carolina State (11-5, 1-3) at Cole Field House in a bid to escape the Atlantic Coast Conference cellar.

In the past week, Simpkins and his teammates have had to endure an embarrassing loss at Wake Forest and a round of air-clearing sessions with the coaching staff.

If that was tough, it doesn't compare to what happened 12 years ago. Simpkins' mother had been in and out of the hospital for about a year, but his father, Sylvester Simpkins, had shielded Duane and his older brother, Sylvester Jr., from the news that Olivia was terminally ill.

"It shows how much strength and love my father has for my brother and I," Duane said, "because he didn't want to put us through that.

"My father is the greatest father in the world to do what he did for us. We had aunts and grandparents asking to take us off his hands. He said, 'No, we're going to get through this.' "

Soon after Olivia's death, the family moved from southeast Washington to Fort Washington, "to start all over again," Simpkins said.

After a highly successful three-year run as a starting point guard for DeMatha High in Hyattsville, Simpkins accepted a scholarship from Maryland. It wasn't a happy marriage at first, though.

"His freshman year was tough," Williams said. "He was coming off a great high school team, and he thought he'd walk in and be the man. For a while, he had doubts this was the right place for him."

Simpkins effectively grew up at Maryland. He made himself an excellent perimeter shooter and one of the ACC's best point guards. On a team that can't always shoot straight, he is easily the Terps' most consistent shooter.

"He probably worked harder on his shooting than any other player," Williams said. "Duane has the dedication to make it happen. We'd all like to run six miles a day, but when it comes down to it, we don't do it. He wanted to prove some things this year and I think he has."

Simpkins is hitting 54.6 percent of his shots and 52.5 percent of his three-point tries, both team highs. His 92 percent accuracy from the foul line ranks fifth in the nation, and his scoring average of 13.5 is up five points from his career mark coming into the season.

Virtually all his statistics are career highs. And he's not a gunner. He's averaging 16 points in his past three games -- on an average of 10 shots a game.

Yet, he says he won't be satisfied with those numbers unless the Terps win -- soon and often.

"I don't want to be known as a guy who couldn't lead his team to victory," he said. "I want to be one of those guys about whom they say, 'He may not have scored a whole lot or had double-figure assists, but his teams won.' "

Simpkins also took umbrage at the implication that his senior leadership hasn't been adequate. A team co-captain with junior Keith Booth, Simpkins is one of four seniors on the team.

"I definitely took it personally," he said of Williams' recent charge that the seniors weren't doing enough. "I always felt I was doing the best I could with the personnel around me. The most I can do is go out and work as hard as I can.

"You can ask the younger guys. In the summertime, I was always around. They saw me shooting jumpers, lifting weights, running sprints. It's not just a matter of being around, but being consistent with it. And I felt I did that."

In four years, he worked, he matured and he improved. The results are evident in his shot and on his shoulder.

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