Dec. 19, 2006
By Patricia Sutton
Special to GoHolyCross.com
This season, the Holy Cross men's basketball team jumped out to a 5-0 start, the best it has seen during head coach Ralph Willard's tenure. Although the team has fallen to 6-3 in last four games, all three of the losses have come on the road, two of which were played against perennial top 25 teams Syracuse and Duke. A major reason for this record-setting start was the leadership and play of senior guard Keith Simmons. In the first nine games of the season, Simmons leads the team with an average of 17.0 points per game, in addition to averaging 6.1 rebounds and 2.6 steals per contest so far this season. Simmons is also currently the all-time Patriot League leader in career three-point field goal percentage. Prior to the start of the year, Simmons was named preseason All-Patriot League, after earning first team all-conference honors in both his sophomore and junior years.
Despite his individual accolades, the team always comes first for this senior co-captain. Simmons believes this year's team has something special. "There is a lot of talent on this team, but we have to become a great `team,'" said Simmons. "You can have all the talent in the world, but if there is no chemistry, things are not going to work very well. If we can work together, and develop some team chemistry, then we can be really good. We have a lot of potential, but potential only gets you so far."
Simmons is the ultimate team player. His personal goals are always a reflection of whatever the team needs for a particular game, whether it is scoring points or rebounding "Whatever the team needs," said Simmons. "I just want to play well enough and lead so that my team has an opportunity to win a lot of games this year." Now as a senior and a captain, Simmons' role has changed. As an underclassman, Simmons's learned from the upperclassmen, but he is now the one to set the example. Simmons says he is still constantly learning from everyone on the team, but with just two seniors on this year's squad, Simmons and fellow captain Torey Thomas, believe they, more than ever, need to impart their game experience to everyone on the team. "Sharing that experience means being more vocal, encouraging and correcting," said Simmons. "Torey and I need to hold each other and everyone on the team accountable for their responsibilities."
In addition to his senior leadership responsibilities, Simmons must also focus on his health. After a junior season that saw him miss playing time due to cramping, it is a new year for Simmons and he hopes his health problems are behind him. To stay healthy this season Simmons claims that he just needs to stay focused. "By that I mean paying attention to my diet and listening to my body," said Simmons. After his performance thus far, it is clear that the team cannot afford to lose Simmons' leadership presence and playing abilities.
Simmons looks forward to this season's Patriot League schedule. Playing each of the seven teams in the league twice, he says the biggest challenge will be every team knowing your strengths and weaknesses. "As a player and a team, you must really work on your weaknesses to make them strengths, so teams can not make you do things you are not good at," said Simmons. "You have to be layered, having the ability to do many different things well." Holy Cross will open its Patriot League schedule on January 6 at Lafayette, starting a difficult stretch of their schedule, where 14 of the next 15 games are played against Patriot League opponents. But Simmons' views the challenges of the season optimistically. "The rim is same height and the court is the same size, so it really just comes down to playing basketball," said Simmons.
Education has always been a priority for Simmons. One of the reasons he was attracted to Holy Cross was because it gave him the best combination of academics and athletics that he could possibly get. "I had seven or eight scholarship offers, but Holy Cross was pretty much the best of both worlds - great academics and a great basketball program," said Simmons. Coach Willard has often praised Simmons for being one of best people he has ever coached, and his continued dedication and leadership, both on and off the court, is one of the biggest reason for Willard's praise.
Simmons is also realistic about his plans after college. Although, he may have opportunities to play basketball after college, he knows that eventually he would like to attend graduate school to earn a master's degree in Education. Ultimately, Simmons wants to become a principal or school administrator. With the perseverance and leadership skills he has developed on the court at Holy Cross, he will likely be successful with all of his future endeavors.