When a high-school athlete inks a letter of intent to join a collegiate sports program, their future move to the university will often be their biggest separation from home in their lives.
That’s not the case for Pace High’s Jahmiah Simmons.
The double-double machine (averaged 15.7 ppg and 11.3 rpg in his senior season) who played varsity basketball for all three years he attended Pace, signed with Arkansas State University — more than 500 miles away from the home of the Patriots.
But that 500-mile trip will be child’s play for Simmons, who left his home (and family) in the U.S. Virgin Islands (more than 1600 miles away from Pace) prior to the start of his sophomore year to become a Pace Patriot while living with his aunt and uncle.
The driving purpose for Simmons?
To become a collegiate basketball player, and he would spend nearly every minute of his free time chasing that goal.
“I will definitely remember the coaching staff and my teammates at Pace — the whole basketball atmosphere was fun and I loved it,” Simmons said. “Everything about basketball here will be something I remember.”
Wednesday of last week, Simmons received signing papers from Tennessee State and was about as close as can be to inking the deal.
But when newly-hired Arkansas State assistant coach Jareem Dowling — who also coaches Simmons on the U.S Virgin Islands FIBA national team — asked the Pace senior to believe in him, Simmons knew he was on the verge of a special opportunity.
“He (Dowling) helped me get this (ASU) offer in four days,” Simmons said. “Coach Dowling has had a great impact on me. I’ve played with him the last two summers. (While I was playing for the U.S. Virgin Islands national team), coach Dowling made it clear that he wanted me to do whatever I want to help this team win — he made me the captain. He trusted me there and he’s gonna trust me at Arkansas State.”
Last summer at the FIBA Americas tournament in Puerto Rico, Simmons’ team took second place, while he earned “Best Guard” of the tourney and was named to first-team all tournament.
And just like he does overseas, Simmon’s certainly shined in games at Pace High School.
A tenacious rebounder — capable of dominating the boards despite often going up against taller players — who frequently showed the athleticism to take a rebound coast-to-coast and finish with an electrifying dunk.
Simmons was anything but selfish, dishing out an average of 5.2 assists per contest during his senior year.
Pace coach Carl Pippin — who flowed with pride and excitement for his player — attributed Simmons’ success to his immense work ethic and some good ole’ courage.
“I just think about how tough that was on him — leaving his family and only seeing them one month out of the year,” Pippin said. “Even when he is home, he spends most of that month playing basketball. Just him being so committed to playing at the next level, that’s what leaves the biggest impact on me. Some kids go away to Division I schools and they can’t go a month without being homesick. For him to leave his family as a 15 year old — that says a lot about his character.”
Pippin sees success on the horizon for Simmons under his new program’s system — which features a new head coach (Grant McCasland, Baylor University assistant since 2011).
“Coach McCasland comes in (to ASU) highly recommended,” said Pippin, referring to McCasland’s 17-year career. “He’s been all over the country and always seems to be successful. And after talking with coach Dowling, (ASU) is a nice fit for Jahmiah. They are uptempo and like to move the ball in transition — and that’s where Jahmiah flourishes.”
For Simmons, the main draw goes back to one of his favorite things about Pace — the atmosphere.
“I think I will fit in at Arkansas State, head coach (Grant McCasland) called and talked to me on Saturday,” Simmons said. “He told me about the atmosphere and how everyone in that area is into sports. And the fans are crazy about sports — I think that’s what I’m looking forward to the most.”
Life will be extremely busy for Simmons this summer, but what else is new for the jet setter?
He will head to ASU on May 30 for a summer term of classes and steady dose of team workouts.
By late June, Simmons will head back to the U.S. Virgin Islands and will compete in this year’s FIBA tournament — hosted in Chile.