Mike’L Simms grew up a VCU fan, going to games and dreaming of one day being a Ram. Recalling those moments, Simms says “it was just perfect, I was just imagining myself playing, I used to always come to the games, I was just picturing myself here. Dreams can come true.”
Simms never thought he had a shot at playing for VCU. “It wasn’t realistic for me at all.”
During his freshman and sophomore years at Highland Springs, there was a lot of talent, so Simms had to take a back seat for a while, often earning minutes due to his size, where he was put in the game as a 4 or 5. During his last two seasons with the Springers, he finally got the chance to move to the wing position, where he could show off his shooting capabilities.
He wasn’t getting recruited out of high school. He had no Division I offers. A few Division II schools offered (Virginia Union, Chowan University), but Simms was not interested. He knew deep down he could do better. He chose to spend a year with a prep school in Durham, NC called Bull City Prep. He spent a year there, where he finally started to get Division I interest, but still no official offers.
Finally Cowley College, a JUCO program in Kansas met with Simms in person, gave him an offer, and Simms accepted. He would go on to have a wild season at Cowley, where he averaged 14 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 1.2 steals per game. The 2nd half of his season took off – in one game he scored 45 points, he averaged 28 points per game in his last 8 games for Cowley.
From there, things blossomed. Simms started getting interest from Miami, Iowa State, NC State, Pittsburgh, and of course VCU. There was a lot of excitement developing for Simms, a sense of optimism and happiness with the amount of attention building around him. That’s when VCU assistant Jeremy Ballard reached out to Simms, and Mike Rhoades quickly followed with an offer.
“That’s when I broke down in tears, it was just so surreal.” He called his aunt, uncle, and grandma to share the news. He sat in the car for an hour, just sitting down, taking it all in. “I did it, I actually did it. I was growing up with a lot of friends who were getting a lot of scholarship offers … and I wasn’t a part of any of that. It was just crazy to receive that (offer)”.
You will find that Mike’l Simms is always one of the first at shoot-around before games at the Siegel Center, often on the court 2-3 hours before things get going. His work ethic is as strong as it gets. He’s motivated by his own journey. Simms says “I always tell myself, whenever I’m working out – how did you get here… you didn’t just sit around eating all day, you worked so hard, why not continue.”
The biggest thing Simms has learned is how to build trust. Growing up, he did not have a lot of trust with people. “I just refused to trust people. Here I feel home, I feel welcome, I feel loved, nobody will ever steer me the wrong way here. I’ve opened myself up to my coaches, my teammates, the whole staff. It’s pretty good here.” He’s learned to show others around him that they can trust him too, particularly his roommate this year, up-and-coming freshman point guard Bones Hyland.
For Simms, success is not always all about basketball, it’s also about the journey, and creating a new standard for the Simms family. “I just want to leave a legacy, not only for me or VCU, but for my family. I just want to set the standard, because nobody has ever gotten there from my family. I want to set the standard to where it’s mandatory to go to college, to get your degree.”
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