Daisha Simmons has been the difference maker Seton Hall needed.
The former Alabama guard — who endured a grueling sixth-month battle with the SEC school that gained national attention to gain immediate eligibility — has helped turn the Pirates into a Big East contender.
“She’s the type of player that we didn’t have the previous years,” said Seton Hall center and graduate student Janee Johnson. “She’s just a threat offensively and defensively. Her length on the court, she’s really is an asset to the team. I don’t know if she knows that, but she’s an important player.”
Averaging a career-best 15.5 points a game, the 5-foot-10 guard is tied for first on the team in steals (46) and is second in assists (65). With Simmons starting every game, Seton Hall went on a 12-game winning streak in posting its best start in school history at 13-1.
“She could obviously score more points, but it’s all about winning,” Seton Hall coach Tony Bozzella said. “That’s why we’re 15-2. She’s a winner.”
During the win streak, the Pirates made a return to the AP Top 25 for the first time since January 1995.
“We always had high expectations from the beginning, but to be here and playing feels great,” she said. “To be a part of something with people that actually care about you on and off court is just fantastic.”
Having this team and individual success has meant even more to Simmons because she has been able to achieve it back in her home state. Simmons’ reasons for leaving Alabama was to return home to Jersey City, New Jersey, and help take care of her mother and brother while entering an MBA graduate school of her choice.
Bozzella said Simmons spends quite a bit of time with her mom and continues to take her brother to receive dialysis treatments as he awaits a kidney transplant.
“She’s doing good,” said Simmons about her mom, who has arthritis. “She makes it to all the home games that she can. My brother is doing good. He hasn’t had the surgery yet, but he’s doing good.”
Simmons still keeps in touch with some her former Crimson Tide teammates. Alabama (11-8) has lost its past four games that included a 64-47 defeat at No. 18 Georgia, a team Seton Hall beat by 19 points at home last month. Simmons had 10 points, six assists and three steals in the 70-51 victory.
— Daisha Simmons
“I’ve been following them and been talking to some of them because some of them have been down,” Simmons said. “It’s kind of bittersweet because I have friends there and I never want to see them fail, but at the same time, I don’t care for anything else back there. Just to see some of my friends going through that is not cool and not fun. I try to talk to them and tell them to keep their heads up.”
Simmons said she tries to “stay in the moment” and not to look back at the turbulent journey she took from Alabama to Seton Hall, but considering what happened, that has been easier said than done.
In May, Simmons left Alabama, but the NCAA denied her immediate eligibility after Alabama didn’t support her waiver to play right away even though she graduated from Alabama in December 2013.
NCAA spokesperson Christopher Radford said a letter in support of a graduate transfer from the departing school is “one of the primary guidelines for grad students” to play right away. The NCAA granted Simmons a sixth year of eligibility, but Simmons wanted to play now, not later.
“I couldn’t possibility fathom how emotionally draining that was,” said Johnson, a junior college transfer. “It was beyond difficult. The process was extremely long.”
Simmons ended up calling upon Montgomery lawyer Donald Jackson in the fall to help her cause. In the days to follow, Jackson went back and forth with Alabama, but the university stood firm on its stance that Simmons didn’t give the school enough time to replace her.
According to the Asbury Park Press, university president Judy Bonner declined to have a meeting with Jackson as stated in an email to him, saying Alabama “considered the matter closed.”
“She started doubting the situation,” Seton Hall graduate student guard Ka-Deidre Simmons said about Simmons. “She had a lot going at home and then to deal with the stuff that Alabama was putting on her, it was a bit much. She’s a strong kid, but there were days you could tell that it was weighing in on her.”
However, the rise of national support for Daisha Simmons ultimately led to Alabama changing its stance to support the waiver. In reaction, the NCAA granted Simmons immediate eligibility Oct. 9.
“I remember exactly where I was,” said Johnson, who was in a night class when informed of the news. “It was one of those moments where I was just so ecstatic about her being accepted and the process being over. I was happy for her and happy for the team.”
Bozzella hopes Daisha Simmons can draw from this experience to help her get through future tough times.
“When things aren’t going that well or things are difficult, know that if you just follow the right course and you believe in what you’re doing, then something good will happen,” Bozzella said.
Simmons was granted eligibility a month before Seton Hall opened its season Nov. 11 against Rider. The Pirates started 2-1 with the loss coming at West Virginia, 89-87. After a 75-70 victory at Penn State that started the 12-game winning streak, Simmons had a much-needed conversation with her new backcourt mate.
“I told her that I needed more from her,” said Ka-Deidre Simmons, who is from Daisha Simmons’ neighboring town, Newark. “I needed her to score more points and just be more of a threat on the court.”
Instead of taking a turn for the worse, the talk turned out to be an early turning point of the season.
“She was one of those people I was kind of worried about stepping on her toes because at the end of the day, this is her program,” Daisha Simmons said. “[She] has been here five years. She started this. I never wanted to come and step on her toes and take anything away from her. So to hear that from her that she needed more and she wanted more got me to relax.”
Two games later, Daisha Simmons exploded for a season-high 30 points in a 75-45 victory against Saint Peter’s. She followed that up with a 25-point effort against St. Joseph’s and a 23-point performance at Creighton.
“I just started to play my game,” Simmons said. “A lot of times, I was thinking too much.”
While Daisha Simmons gives Seton Hall scoring pop, she’s also a second ball handler and tenacious on defense. Bozzella calls her the best defensive guard he’s coached in 23 years at the collegiate level.
“Her ability to just take the ball from someone in the backcourt is ridiculous,” Johnson said. “Honestly, it intimidates players because they know about her.”
On top of that, she brings a ton of intangibles such as moving without the ball and taking tough shots with the shot clock winding down.
“She’s always in the open spot,” Johnson said. “With me being a post player, I’m always looking for an outlet a lot of the time when teams double down. She’s always in that open spot.”
Daisha Simmons has emerged from the lowest point in her college career to perhaps the highest to date. She’s back home and everyone involved couldn’t be happier with how everything has turned out.
“She belongs here,” Johnson said. “I love her. I know my teammates love her. We’re just a big family.”
This article was written by Duane Rankin from The Montgomery Advertiser and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.