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Diamond's Sparkle Lures Lion Cager; Hoop Future in Doubt

June 16, 1988|ALAN DROOZ | Times Staff Writer

During the college basketball season, Enoch Simmons was Loyola Marymount's version of the Lakers' Michael Cooper: an instant spark off the bench, an added dimension of physical presence and speed who kicked the team into another gear, usually when opponents were already having trouble keeping up with the starters.

Though Simmons was rarely among the scoring leaders on the nation's highest-scoring team, Coach Paul Westhead often singled him out for praise after games, noting his hustle or defense or his ability to go inside and rebound at 6-foot-4. He often called him "my sixth starter."

"He knows we think he's a terrific kid," Westhead said.

Simmons is clearly a favorite of the coach. He's also the only returning senior for Westhead, who puts a lot of stock in senior leadership.

But in Simmons' mind, he may be Loyola's version of Dave Winfield: a big, multitalented, multisport player who may forgo basketball in favor of a baseball career.

The 21-year-old Simmons realized a dream when he was drafted this month in the fourth round by the Oakland A's. He signed and will report to the rookie-level Arizona State League in Phoenix. He hopes to spend the summer playing minor-league ball, then return to Loyola for his final year of basketball.

Of concern at Loyola is whether, after a summer of professional baseball, Simmons will choose to play his final year of basketball eligibility or concentrate solely on baseball.

All of this is confusing to some Loyola followers, who know that Simmons is one of the basketball team's top players but were not aware of his baseball skills. He rarely saw action under baseball Coach Dave Snow, whose regular players put in a fall season, then practice or play almost daily from January through the end of the season. Simmons didn't join the team until mid-March.

In the past year, Simmons played in all 32 basketball games, starting two. Helping the team to win its first conference title in 27 years, he averaged 8.9 points, was third in three-point baskets with 43 (on 47% shooting) and was second in assists.

In baseball, he played in only 15 of the team's 64 games and had only 16 at-bats. He hit .563 with two doubles, one home run and eight runs scored. He appeared in NCAA playoff tournaments in two sports within three months, a rare collegiate double.

At Riverside North High School, Simmons was an all-star guard and was drafted in baseball. He saw basketball as his best game then. But Simmons is looking at a future he sees as diamond-studded.

Simmons' basketball assets--a muscled frame, jumping ability, speed, a three-point shooting touch and an ability to go inside--usually draw the attention of scouts. But it's that athleticism that made him attractive to baseball scouts, despite his relative lack of experience.

"I would want to continue one more year with Coach Westhead," Simmons said, "(but) I don't see myself having a future in basketball. If I did, I probably would lean toward it."

When Simmons made his recruiting visit to Loyola, he chatted with Snow, who checked his credentials and told him he'd be welcome to join the team when basketball season was over. Simmons joined the baseball team his sophomore year.

Last summer, Simmons decided to test his baseball skills. He spent the summer in a competitive San Francisco league and did well enough to impress some major league scouts.

"I did well, and I realized how much potential I had," he said. "It was a confidence builder. . . . I think if I'm out there 10 months, 12 months of the year, I'll be much better because I'll be consistent."

Despite his limited playing time this spring Simmons said a handful of baseball teams indicated interest.

He recently discussed his situation with Westhead, who stressed that whatever decision he makes, the coach would like to see him return to school and get his degree.

Simmons was the only freshman recruited when Westhead became Loyola's coach in 1985. Simmons admitted they have a "special relationship" that could sway him.

"He told me about senior experience. He said next year is supposed to be my year. He put pressure on me that way. I've known him the longest, played for him the longest. I've played under him for three different types of ballclubs. I kind of know how he likes to do things, what he expects, how things should be run."

He said Westhead also knows how to motivate him.

"He always expects more," Simmons said. "When I think I'm doing well he says, 'You could be doing more.' I like that attitude: Never be satisfied. It gives you incentive to do more. People say, 'You had a great year, E.' But I'm not satisfied. I think I could've done more."

"Enoch has been a terrific guy for three years," Westhead said. "He'll take into strong consideration our relationship, but ultimately he'll do what is best for his life. In the best scenario, he would sign, play (baseball) this summer, then not only come back to complete basketball but graduate as well, then go off into his baseball career."

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