Go West this summer and get ahead.

Freshman guard Simonds debut season is here

D’Marcus Simonds smiles at his fellow teammates during a practice. Photos by Gordon Clark| The Signal
Georgia State freshman D’Marcus Simonds smiles at his fellow teammates during a practice. Photos by Gordon Clark| The Signal
Georgia State freshman D’Marcus Simonds smiles at his fellow teammates during a practice.
Photos by Gordon Clark| The Signal

He’s the program’s biggest high school recruit to ever commit. The four-star combo guard averaged 25 points his senior season, leading Gainesville High School to an undefeated 17-0 record in regional play. He was ranked the 72nd best high school basketball player in the country, simultaneously earning all-state honors a third time in a row.

However, none of these numbers were the last memories D’Marcus Simonds had after the second-round playoff loss to McIntosh High School

“It was heartbreaking,” Simonds said. “We came up short, literally at the buzzer. I worked all year, with my brothers basically back home in Gainesville, so it was heartbreaking.”

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Heartbreak and doubt are two vital factors that fuel Simonds to play his best basketball. He said opposing team coaches, students and fans would be on top of him constantly during every game, waiting for him to mess up. The more attention he got around the country, the worse the taunting got. Simonds responded to his hecklers by improving all of his senior season statistics in points, rebounds, and assists.

“That’s always what I’ve been about, just proving people wrong,” Simonds said during a light team shootaround. “Ever since I was little, people would always say things like, ‘I wouldn’t do this,’ or ‘I wouldn’t do that,’ but I feel like I’ve proved everyone wrong and I’m going to keep that with me.”

Rumble, young man rumble

One undeniable characteristic about Simonds is that he’s confident. The 19-year-old mixed shootaround in with dunk attempts that he’s successfully completed and uploaded to social media all summer. He believes he’s the best freshman in the Sun Belt “by far” and he doesn’t feel the pressure of living up to the shadow of former Panther “Diaper Dandy” and eventual program all-time leading scorer R.J. Hunter. You can tell by the frequent smiling he has, simply by being with his teammates on the floor, that he’s enjoying his current opportunity.

“My family told me when I was younger, they were like, ‘If you don’t get a scholarship, you’re not going to go to college,’” he said in a serious tone, before returning to his seemingly usual cheerful one. “Now that I’m here, I’m actually in college and I see what I can do, and everyone’s like, ‘I can do things beyond this. I can go to the league. I can do a lot of things.’ So, I’m just looking forward to it.”

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Many of his high school critics misunderstood Simonds’ confidence for arrogance, but he said those critics didn’t know him personally and that his family often reminds him to stay humble.

“Growing up my mom didn’t have much money,” he said when speaking on his motives to play. “I have two brothers and a sister, they didn’t really have much. We always moved from home-to-home. When I was younger, I would tell her [his mom], ‘I’m gonna get you a house one day. I’m going to play ball, I’m gonna go pro and I’m going to get you a house.’ She passed away, but that’s still one of my biggest goals. From what I told her when I was a youngin’, when I was seven, to get her that house. So I plan on getting my family a home and all of that.”

A new challenge

Before Simonds can get the chance to become a professional basketball player, he has to find minutes this season in a crowded backcourt. This year’s Panthers will include guards Devin Mitchell, Justin Seymour, Austin Donaldson, Jeff Thomas, Carter Cagle, Nile Felton, one of Simonds’ closest friends in Isaiah Williams and his favorite player in Isaiah Dennis.

All of those teammates have battled against each other for the past few months in the four walls of the new practice facility off Decatur Street. The former competitive swimming and diving pool is now almost a mirror image reflection of the GSU Sports Arena, all the way down to the “Welcome to Atlanta” banners that hang behind each backboard. The team is also in apparel transition, with every athlete sporting Under Armour shoes and mostly Under Armour socks to go along with the usual Nike practice jersey and shorts.

Moving to Downtown Atlanta shortly after his high school graduation this summer, Simonds anxiousness to begin the season continued to grow by the day. He even tweeted about how excited he was to play defense against USC Aiken in an exhibition game. After spending four years in high school as the tallest player on the floor most nights, the 6-foot-3 guard is now entering the utopia where most defenders will be just as big, if not bigger, than him on a nightly basis.

“It’s a whole ‘nother level,” Simonds said. “People are older than me, I’m finally the young guy. A small guy. So I’m trying to come in and make some noise.”

Simonds said that Head Coach Ron Hunter’s best advice to him was to think about making “hit singles.” The phrase is a comparison to the process of making hit song versus playing on the court, because a lot of “hit singles” come when the artist not forcing the issue, and in Simonds’ case, allowing the game to come to him.

In the first exhibition of the season, Simonds came off the bench to play the second most minutes out of all Panthers on the night. He ended up scoring 12 points to go along with four rebounds, four assists, three steals and an acrobatic block that brought most fans, who previously pronounced his last name wrong in chants before being corrected by Simonds himself in mid-play action, to their feet.

“He’s extremely talented, he just hasn’t learned how to quite play yet,” Coach Hunter said in regards to Simonds after his first college exhibition game, which was a 92-79 victory. “That’s not a knock on him, he’s just [19 years old]. He’s trying to figure this thing out, but when he figures it out, he’s going to be special.”

  • Four-star high school recruit
  • Game-winning playoff shot against North Atlanta in 2015 made USA Today’s website
  • Played on same AAU team as fellow Panther freshman Chris Clerkley
  • Played football as a high school freshman
  • Started high school at Buford High School, where former Panther T.J. Shipes is an alum

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