Simms wants more from himself, UMBC Sophomore cringes at memories of 5-22

State college preview

November 20, 1996|By Roch Eric Kubatko | Roch Eric Kubatko,SUN STAFF

The achievement hangs in front of Alhamisi Simms and goes ignored. A visitor dangles it like bait from a hook, but UMBC's sophomore guard won't bite.

Not even a nibble.

Simms is reminded that he became the first UMBC player to make the Big South Conference's All-Rookie team last winter, but all he can see is a myriad of losses, a bad shooting percentage and lake-sized room for improvement.

First, the defeats. There were 22 of them, and they came in all shapes and sizes. Some were narrow, many were inflated and they all wore on Simms.

His teams at Severn School won 50 games in his two seasons. At UMBC, he was in uncharted waters.

"It's hard on any basketball player when you go 5-22. Even if you lost in high school, you don't want to lose, period," he said. "This is college; it's different circumstances. But I didn't think I could ever go 5-22 like that."

It was enough to test his passion for the game. "Sometimes, you just don't want to come to the gym at all, thinking it's just a hopeless circumstance. But you just try to push through it, keep trying to play well."

By most standards, Simms did that last season, starting all but one game and averaging 11.0 points and 3.2 rebounds. In the one game he came off the bench, against Lehigh, he scored 18 points in 20 minutes, including five three-pointers, in a 72-67 victory.

He also set a UMBC freshman record with 32 points in his home debut against Rider. And for a couple of weeks, he led the nation in free-throw percentage before finishing ninth at .881.

But there's one statistic that gnaws at him. The same player who scored more than 1,000 career points at Severn shot just 34 percent from the field last season, making 90 of 263 attempts.

The reason? Maybe Simms wasn't the same player after all. Instead of being a slasher, a creator -- as he was at Severn -- he spent too much time launching jumpers from the perimeter. He took the name "shooting guard" too literally.

He'll return to that position this season, but also will play some at small forward to make room for freshman guard Jason Womble. And perhaps that switch will help him return to his previous form.

"Maybe he'll be able to take the ball to the hole more," said coach Tom Sullivan. "Misi was a slasher coming out of high school. Last year, everybody comes to see him and says he's an outside shooter.

"We want to meld his game back into what it was. I think that's why he would be more natural at the 3 position, but right now, we have a senior [Marc Lay] who's played very well over the course of his career at the 3.

"From the 3 position, it's a little easier for Misi to use his speed and quickness. Usually, if you can beat your man from the 3 or 4, you're right at the basket. If you beat your man from the 2 spot, then you have to beat the next line of defense, and that's a difficult transition for a young kid to make. And I think that's why all of a sudden, his slashing game kind of disappeared.

"I think Alhamisi had a very good year for a freshman," Sullivan added. "The most important thing was, under a lot of adversity, he kept his head up and focused in on improving himself."

Simms, 6 feet 2 and 185 pounds, will try to make up for the departure of swingman Tony Thompson, who played through injuries last season to average 16.7 points and 6.2 rebounds. He set an example that didn't go unnoticed.

"Just seeing him every day in practice, he was tireless," Simms said. "During the course of the season, he worked through some things that some of the other guys didn't, or couldn't.

"Since I was here last year and we have a lot of young guys [five freshmen], I guess they would have to look up to me a little bit."

Sullivan said: "When we saw Alhamisi, we thought of him as being a swingman and sort of a protege of Tony. And as he gets stronger and more aggressive, that will happen more and more.

"I picture us as a building program that's going through some change and a lot of players are finding their identity within the program. And I think, for sure, Misi is in sort of that metamorphosis, too."

Last season was the first stage. Simms can only hope that the next one doesn't include so many of the same problems, and another tragedy such as the New Year's Day death of sophomore guard Matt Skalsky to a heart arrhythmia.

"I took it as a learning experience," Simms said. "Those things made me stronger, they made me mature a little bit more. Maybe now, I'm a little more relaxed when I play."

But just as critical.

"I don't look at all the positive things, just the negative things that motivate me," he said. "I made the All-Rookie team. I wasn't Rookie of the Year. I wanted to be all-league and that didn't happen.

"This year, I want to increase my shooting percentage, make All-Big South and win. That's the most important thing. I'll look down on all the rest of those things if we can win basketball games."

What's next

Coming college basket- ball previews in The Sun:

Tomorrow: State women

Friday: Loyola, UMES

Monday: Coppin State

Wednesday: Maryland

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