THE San Antonio Spurs are noted for finding relatively unknown players and turning them into significant contributors in their lineup.
The latest diamond in the rough is 26-year old swingman Jonathon Simmons, who tallied a career-best 20 points, to go with four rebounds, three assists and a block in 28 minutes during the Spurs' 129-100 season-opening demolition of the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday.
But what many fans don't know is that Simmons was once a basketball castaway, and his rise is a classic story of perseverance and determination.
After playing for two junior colleges and a single year with the University of Houston, the 6-6 wingman declared for the 2012 NBA Draft as a junior in order to support his four young daughters.
Teams decided to pass on him and ‘Simms’ ended up playing with the Sugar Land Legends in the semi-pro American Basketball League (ABL) which later folded due to financial difficulties.
The most inspiring bit about Simmons' realization of his NBA dream is how it all started in 2013. In a report by ESPN's Michael C. Wright last February, Simmons paid $150 registration fee to attend an open try out with the Austin Toros, the Spurs’ NBA Development League affiliate. He spent two years with the team where his consistent improvement and athleticism captured scouts’ attention.
In 2015, Simmons was invited to play in the Brooklyn Nets summer league team where he averaged 12 points and five rebounds in three games. The Spurs later added him to their own summer league roster and played so well that the team won the championship and Simmons was named the championship game MVP.
The Spurs rewarded him with a two-year minimum contract. But still, it wasn't smooth sailing in the beginning.
In his first year, Simmons alternated between the NBA and the D-League. In a January game against the Milwaukee Bucks, fans heckled him with chants of “Who are you?” and proceeded to score a then-career-best 18 points and helped the Spurs win. From March onwards, he became a part of the regular rotation.
With Simmons' solid season debut as part of the Spurs 'Juice Unit' reserves, fans better take notice and remember the name.