There is an argument to be made that this team’s number of returning players paired with three highly-skilled freshmen could potentially inflate expectations, which could then create a level of complacency. According to the 6-foot-7 power forward, however, finding motivation isn’t going to be a problem.
“I think our ... practices are going to be intense,” Simmons said. “It’s going to be competitive. There are a lot of guys that were part of the team last year that experienced a bad taste in their mouths in San Antonio after the loss to Iowa State.”
Simmons, who averaged 5.8 minutes per game last season, was used primarily as a defensive specialist and rebounder late in games. As has been the case throughout his UNC career, the Webster, N.C. native continues to relish the opportunity to contribute in any way that he can.
“The situations where I come in a lot are tight situations,” Simmons said. “Every player loves that. To make a big defensive stand and win the game, that’s a pretty big deal. That’s a scenario that I thrive in.”
With the departure of James Michael McAdoo, every player competing for the No. 4 spot has worked to improve their skills this offseason in hopes of increasing their productivity once the season tips off. For Simmons, that means erasing hesitation from his actions.
“I played a little bit out of fear last year after making a mistake,” Simmons said. “Now, mentally, I’ve really honed in on not worrying about making a mistake and focusing on just playing the game.”
As for the lofty preseason expectations being set by those who cover college basketball, Simmons appreciates the respect, but understands that there is a long road ahead.
“I think we’re worthy of a top-five ranking, because I know the talent that we have and the type of guys we have,” he said. “We’ve been working hard toward becoming an elite team. The preseason rankings are nice, but we want to be No. 1 at the end of the year.”
Don’t be surprised if you see Simmons roaming the sidelines down the road. He noted that he made sure to pick Bobby Frasor’s mind on how to get into coaching during a recent pickup game at the Smith Center.