A Birthday to Remember

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Two days after his 19th birthday, Jackson Simmons was one of five North Carolina walk-ons left on the Tucker Center floor at the end of an epic 33-point debacle. On his 20th birthday, the sophomore forward delivered a career day in helping UNC enact revenge on the very same court.

Roy Williams opened his postgame press conference with this comment: "The best thing to say is happy birthday to Jackson."

There's no doubt where Saturday ranks on the Webster, N.C. native's all-time birthday list.

"I've never won on my birthday, even in high school, so it's up there," Simmons said following UNC's 77-72 victory over Florida State. "It's No. 1 by far."

The 6-foot-7, 220-pounder scored a career-high eight points, connecting on all three field goal attempts and both free throws, in a career-high 15 minutes. Simmons played 11 of those minutes in the final 14:21.

He also grabbed four rebounds, notched an assist and blocked a shot along with one turnover. His true value, however, is not evident on the stat sheet.

Simmons combined energy with heady play to provide stability in the post that has been lacking for most of the season.

"He does this every day in practice - he gives you 100 percent effort," Williams said. "And what was his first big-time play today? He dove on the dadgum floor."

In a span of three-and-a-half minutes in the first half, Simmons pulled down an offensive rebound that resulted in a UNC score, blocked a shot to switch possession, and executed a backdoor pass to Reggie Bullock to perfection. Williams also praised him for setting a hard screen.

Regarding the backdoor play, Williams noted that his team had problems running it correctly. According to Simmons, his teammates had begun referring to it as "his play" during dummy offense because he would throw the backdoor pass when players weren't expecting it.

Bullock was ready for the pass on Saturday and scored an easy layup to give UNC a 29-26 lead with 2:16 to play.

"When I got it, one option wasn't open and I just went with the other option," Simmons said. "Reggie made a great cut and a great finish."

Simmons's approach was simple.

"When I got here this afternoon, one of the things Coach was telling us was do your job," Simmons said. "Everybody do your job. That's all I was focused on. Getting shooters open, setting good screens, diving on the floor, getting rebounds. Just doing all of the little things it takes to win a game like that."

Simmons played two first-half minutes against Miami on Thursday, scratching the stat sheet with an assist to Bullock on the perimeter. Seeing the court before halftime two days ago helped prepare him to play early against the Seminoles. Even so, he didn't expect to play nearly as much as he did.

"Every time I kept going back in, I just tried to keep doing what I did from the first moment I stepped on the court, and that was do everything it takes to help the team win," Simmons said.

While Simmons admitted he would be lying to say that he wasn't surprised by his play, he also confirmed his effort was an example of practice repetition paying off.

"It's just a confidence thing," he said. "I did what I was supposed to do. I did my job."

As Williams stepped down from the media dais following his postgame press conference, the conversation once again turned to the birthday boy.

"That was a heck of a birthday present to me," Williams said.

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