Men's NCAA Tournament
Simmons is Washington's lead Dawg
Huskies fans should be thankful the UW staff pursued the little-known Garfield High graduate at the expense of some highly touted prospects.
Seattle Times staff reporter
BOISE, Idaho — From the outside, it seemed a risky move for a first-year coach to make.
Lose any chance to get two players who alone would give the perception of a good recruiting class, in exchange for a relatively unknown local kid who had gone to Texas and all but disappeared?
But that's exactly what Washington coach Lorenzo Romar did in August 2002 when he pressed Tre Simmons for a commitment, knowing that it would eliminate any shot at landing Rainier Beach's Lodrick and Rodrick Stewart, then regarded as two of the hottest prospects in the country.
Take Simmons — a Garfield High School graduate who was coming off one year of inactivity followed by another at Odessa (Texas) Junior College, where he had averaged 12 points a game — and there would be no room left for the Stewarts.
But hold out and land the Stewarts, and Romar — who had yet to coach a game at UW — would be considered by many to have already achieved his first victory.
There was a time, Romar admits, when that might have been his primary concern.
"I remember being (an assistant) at UCLA and at times recruiting players based on perception instead of who was the best," he said yesterday. "But we felt like for the situation, that Tre Simmons was the best fit for us (at Washington).
"A lot of it had to do with the player he was. But it also had to do with that he wanted to be a Husky. When things aren't going well, when someone wants to be here, it's still going to work out. But if they are not sure, if you have to beg them, then when things start going wrong they want to leave. He wanted to be a Husky.
"You can't worry about perception. If you make the right choice, perception is going to go in your favor anyway."
And who can imagine the Huskies now without Tre Simmons?
Not only has he become an All-Pac-10 player, but he has also turned into something of a bellwether for this team — when he plays well, the Huskies usually win; when he doesn't, they often struggle.
In Washington's five losses this season, for instance, Simmons has hit 38 percent (22 of 58) of his shots, 35 percent (11 of 31) from three-point range, and averaged 12.1 points. That compares to 45 percent from the floor, 41 percent from three-point range and 16.3 points for the season.
The most obvious correlation between Simmons' performance and UW's fate came in the regular-season finale against Stanford, when a tenacious Cardinal defense held him to eight points in 19 minutes as the Huskies' dreams of a Pac-10 regular-season title vanished.
Opponents in the NCAA tournament, which the Huskies begin today with a first-round matchup with Montana, are sure to study those numbers and try to pull off a similar defensive performance against Simmons.
But he vows it won't work.
"That would be a good thing for them to try to do," Simmons said. "But I think I'm going to overcome that now. I know what I have to do now. All I have to do is keep moving. I didn't move as much as I should have. We were doing a lot of standing around in that game. But it's crunch time now, so there's no room for error."
And Simmons has a history of coming through the rockiest of waters right-side up.
He had gone to Odessa to revive his career. But he didn't attract Washington's attention until Huskies assistant Cameron Dollar had a chance meeting with Odessa's coach, Orlando Ontiveroz, while watching Nate Robinson play in a high-school all-star game at KeyArena.
"That's what got the ball rolling on us pursuing him," Dollar said.
After leaving Odessa, Simmons enrolled at Green River Community College in Auburn, where he averaged 29.8 points per game and made Huskies fans feel a bit more comfortable about their coach's decision.
But as school was about to start in 2003, Simmons had yet to be admitted academically. Washington at one point sent out a news release declaring him ineligible, and Simmons began talking to coaches at Division II Kentucky Wesleyan about playing there instead.
"I really thought I wasn't coming here," he said. "I talked to the coaches there and they said they'd be happy to have me. I could start playing in December and all that. I was a week or two away (from leaving)."
But Renee Conroy, mother of Huskies guard Will Conroy and something of a team mom for many Garfield graduates, investigated and found the root of the problem — Simmons had been given failing grades for a few classes at Bellevue Community College in the fall of 2000 when he had in fact withdrawn to take a full-time job.
BCC agreed to erase the failing grades, and Simmons was declared eligible.
Simmons, who is close with the Stewart family, knew that many were wondering "Tre who?" when the Huskies took him instead of staying in the chase for Lod and Rod.
"But I knew what I could do," Simmons said. "At the time, people just hadn't seen me play yet."
After an uneven start to his UW career, he came on in the second half, developing a reputation as one of the most dangerous shooters in the conference. He cemented that rep this season, though he now wants to be known for his all-around game as well.
He took some offense to the notion he'd had a bad game when he scored a season-low two points against Stanford in the semifinals of the Pac-10 tournament, pointing out he did a lot of other things, including grabbing a team-high eight rebounds and playing good defense.
"A lot of people who have seen me this year tell me, 'You might be the best defender on the team,' " Simmons said. "That's what I like. I don't want to consider myself just a scorer."
But then, perception has never really told the whole story when it has come to Simmons, anyway.
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or email@example.com
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