Now take a tour through Jonathon Simmons’ journey step by step. As the 27-year-old swingman looks to break out with the Spurs, we detail his rise:
2008-09: Paris Junior College (Paris, Texas)
Photo courtesy of Margaret Ruff/Paris Junior College
At 16, Simmons was a 5-foot-7 guard who considered dropping out of high school. (A study conducted during his junior year at M.B. Smiley in northeast Houston determined the school to be a “dropout factory” in which 40 percent of freshman did not reach their senior year.)
But by his junior year basketball season, Simmons had shot up to 6-foot-3 and garnered recruiting interest from colleges like SMU, Texas A&M and Marquette. Academic struggles forced him to take the junior college route. He played his freshman season at Paris Junior College, averaging 12.2 points and earning all-conference honors.
2009-10: Midland College (Midland, Texas)
Reid Merritt/Courtesy of Midland Athletics
Simmons transferred to Midland for his sophomore season and upped his scoring average to 13.3 points per game, again earning all-conference honors. He signed a National Letter of Intent to play at the University of Houston in November 2010 and sat out the 2010-11 season in compliance with the NCAA’s transfer regulation.
2011-12: University of Houston
Photo courtesy of Houston Athletics
In his first Division-I season, Simmons led the Cougars and ranked eighth in Conference USA in scoring (14.7 PPG). He declared for the 2012 NBA Draft and signed with an agent, but went undrafted.
January 2013: Drafted by American Basketball League’s Sugar Land Legends
Jonyprofit/Courtesy of Arnetta Yardbourgh
Simmons attended tryouts for the brand-new American Basketball League on Dec. 1, 2012, and was selected by the Sugar Land Legends in the first round of the league’s inaugural draft a month later.
He averaged 36.5 points in 16 games.
September 28, 2013: Tries Out for Spurs’ D-League Team
About 60 professional basketball hopefuls attended the Austin Toros’ tryout at Concordia University, paying a $150 registration fee. (The team has since been renamed the Austin Spurs.)
Their talent level, in the estimation of Austin head coach Ken McDonald, ranged from “guys that I can beat one-on-one to guys like Jon.” Simmons stood out, earning an invitation to training camp and playing his way onto the team’s opening night roster. He averaged 9.8 points in 23.2 minutes during his first NBA D-League season.
2014-15: Breakout Season for the Austin Spurs
Simmons said that during his time in Austin, he considered giving up on his basketball career, moving back home and working a 9-to-5 job to take care of his four daughters: “I was just gonna wing it.”
He pushed on, and during his second season vaulted his way back onto the NBA radar. A move to point guard forced Simmons to see the court from a different perspective, which he said unlocked the rest of his game.
He averaged 15.2 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.7 assists during the regular season and helped carry Austin to the Western Conference Finals.
“Midway through Year 1, you could see some serious athletic ability that you just can’t teach,” said McDonald. “The level of improvement of his ball skills and passing skills into Year 2 was when I really thought this dream could become a reality.”
May 11-12, 2015: Participates in NBA D-League Elite Mini Camp
The NBA Development League’s Elite Mini Camp takes place in Chicago days before the NBA Draft Combine, giving scouts a chance to see a different crop of prospects. Simmons was one of 40 players to attend the sixth annual event, most notably registering a 38-inch vertical (tied for third-best) during the camp’s first-ever athletic testing.
July 10-20, 2015: Leads Spurs’ Summer League Team to Championship
Simmons was on a bus in Orlando, having just completed his third and final game with the Brooklyn Nets’ Summer League team, when he received a call from his agent.
“’Jon … you are now an NBA player,’” Simmons retold the story to NBADLeague.com in July.
“‘The Spurs just gave you a two-year [deal].’
“I’m like, ‘Whaaaaat?’ That’s all I could say. I was like, ‘Hold on, whaaaaat?’”
Upon arriving in Vegas, the high-flying, 6-foot-6 guard turned the 11-day, 67-game event into his personal showcase, rising for emphatic dunks, swatting away fastbreak layup attempts and slashing into the paint with a vicious crossover and first step combo.
He scored 23 points in the championship game of the Summer League tournament, earning MVP honors, and his NBA contract became official two days later. (The second year is non-guaranteed, according to Simmons.)
The Spurs staffers who confirmed the deal to Simmons in person “got emotional” during the meeting, McDonald said. LaTonya Simmons, Jonathon’s mother, cried “the whole night.”
“And called me early the next morning,” Jonathon Simmons said. “I’m like, ‘Mom, I got a game.’
“‘Son, I’m just so emotional.’”
November 14, 2015: Makes NBA Debut
Simmons remained glued to the bench for nearly a month to start his rookie season. By December, he’d cracked the Spurs’ rotation. By January, he was guarding Stephen Curry in Golden State.
The 26-year-old rookie appeared in 55 regular-season games for the 67-15 Spurs last season, scoring in double figures in 10 of those games and averaging 6.0 points in 14.8 minutes.
“I think it’s been very important in the sense that he was down there for a while and never lost hope,” Popovich told the Express-News of Simmons’ time in the D-League. (Simmons also played in four games on assignment with the Austin Spurs last season.)
“He basically paid his dues.”