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Hardscrabble Youth Prepares Simmons for Success : Basketball: Forward who has seen it all before is the main candidate for Big West freshman of the year.


IRVINE — Raimonds Miglinieks handles the ball like a yo-yo with his left hand and points to a spot on the floor a few feet away with his right.

Kevin Simmons obediently moves out from under the basket and takes a rock-solid stance on the designated spot as Miglinieks dribbles past, leaning in and scraping off his defender against Simmons' body.

The player guarding Simmons instinctively moves to cut off Miglinieks and Simmons spins away toward the basket. Miglinieks loops a pass, Simmons snatches it from the air and slips in a short bank shot, all in the same motion.

The pick and roll is as old as the game, but it's still beautiful to behold in its purest and simplest form . . . especially when everyone in the arena knows it's about to happen.

The UC Irvine point guard is one of college basketball's best passers, but a great pass without a basket on the other end doesn't excite him at all. So Miglinieks learned early this season to focus his attention on Simmons, a freshman forward from Brooklyn who has the moves and the moxie to score or draw a foul.

"I know I can get him the ball," Miglinieks said. "And I know he will finish."

When he isn't hammered on the way to the hoop, Simmons' forte is finishing. In traffic, with hands in his face and double teams converging, he still manages to coax the ball over the rim most of the time. He leads Irvine in scoring, averaging 14.8 points, tying him for ninth in the Big West Conference, and rebounding (7.5), which ranks sixth in conference.

Wednesday, when the coaches' votes are counted and the Big West freshman of the year is named, Simmons will win--it's a slam dunk.

"He's a great player," Pacific Coach Bob Thomason said. "He's got all those great spin moves. He's so active and athletic and he's only going to get better. He's already one of the better players in the league and I doubt if it will be very long before he's the best."

Simmons' ability to handle the ball and shoot from the perimeter give him dimensions uncommon for 6-foot-8 players who compete in the Big West. He does most of his scoring inside, but he'll hit an occasional 15-foot jumper or three-pointer to remind defenders they must guard him all over the court.

And he can handle the ball well enough to create scoring opportunities facing the basket. Unlike many big men, you don't cringe every time he puts the ball on the floor.

"Most guys his size in this league just stay inside," said Irvine guard Zuri Williams, "but he's a big man who can take his man outside and then take it to the hole. And we don't have to force it inside to get him the ball. He can come out and get it, and that's a big advantage for him."

Simmons honed his skills on the playgrounds of Brooklyn where "you have to be able to dribble and shoot outside or you don't ever get the ball," he said.

But there is another major factor in Simmons' instant success at Irvine. He has displayed a poise and maturity seldom seen in a freshman.

"What I like in him best," said Miglinieks, "even when he has not a very good game, you can never see in his face frustration."

Frustration? Given his childhood, a few bad bounces of a basketball aren't going to faze Simmons.

"I never have a problem with losing my temper on the court," he said. "Growing up like I did, you learn fast that things don't go right all the time. You've got to expect that and just keep on going."


Kevin Simmons grew up fast, to be sure, but this is not the way you want a kid to grow up.

"There was never a time that I questioned Kevin's ability on the court or his ability academically," said Brooklyn Tilden High Coach Eric Eisenberg. "All the problems he had came back to the fragility of his base. You can't build a castle on sand and because of his early childhood, he didn't have a very strong foundation.

"So whenever he had a lot of stress, he had nothing to fall back on."

Simmons' father was gone before he was old enough to remember what he looked like. When he was 9, his mother left him, a brother and four sisters with a foster agency, where they were separated and placed in different homes.

Growing up in Brooklyn, guns and drugs are a fact of everyday life. Crack dealers and the crack of gunfire are just around every corner.

"Drugs were everywhere, guns were everywhere," Simmons said. "There was no escaping drugs and guns. And there were plenty of times when I was on the edge of going the wrong way, but my friends turned me away from it.

"They always told me I could be somebody with basketball."

After three years and numerous foster houses, Simmons found a real home when Emily Durant took him in and eventually adopted him. The Bedford-Stuyvesant project in Brooklyn is among the seediest and most crime-ridden in the world, but a home has more to do with the love inside the front door than the discarded syringes on the stairs and the dealers in the foyer.

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