Monday, 26 December 2016

Spirit of Giving

In the spirit of the season I decided to write this blog on giving.  Being a giving teammate is critical to having any amount of success on a team.  There are only a few ways to be on a team either you are giving energy or you are taking energy. There is nothing in between if you are neutral you are taking because there is so much more you could be contributing. Honestly, just staying still and holding back is clearly taking. Teams that give energy to each other are the ones that go the farthest because it doesn’t matter which players are on the court the energy is flowing in the same positive direction. It is incredibly hard to stop that.  

There are so many great parts about basketball that make this game great.  The fundamentals of shooting, dribbling and passing as well as defence are critical to creating a balanced athlete.  Of all of these skills the most underrated, in my opinion, is passing.  Finding the open player, giving up a good shot for a great shot and being selfless to get your teammate the ball are all incredibly powerful parts of this game.  

A long time ago when I was coaching at a basketball camp in California I heard an interesting story about Steve Nash when he was at College in Santa Clara.  An opposing coach was talking about how Steve was such a precise passer that if he didn’t want a particular teammate to shoot the ball then he would pass slightly off so that the player could catch the ball but they wouldn’t be in a position to be able to shoot it. This would help the team with their shot selection and I thought it was brilliant. Passes can be used to set teammates up for success or they can be used to find an even better option.      

In the book A Coach’s Life by Dean Smith I read about how he coached a player that was only looking for himself.  He would only shoot himself and didn’t have any interest in getting his teammates the ball.  After the opposing team scored Coach Smith stopped practice and took the remaining 4 players off the court.  He told the player he was now playing 1 on 5  to which the player asked how he was going to inbound the ball.  Coach Smith responded to him “Good, now you learned you need two anyways.”

Sometimes players get so wrapped up in being a scorer and they don’t realize that being a play maker is so much more powerful.  Scorers can be hard to stop but playmakers are even more difficult because they can create for themselves as well as find other people. Playmakers embody the spirit of giving. 

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Rise and Shine - A Craig Sager Story

Craig Sager was a sideline reporter in the NBA and never missed a day of work in his life until he was diagnosed with Leukaemia.  You may have seen him before with his Don Cherry like outfits on the sidelines and his exuberant personality throughout the NBA broadcast.    This week he unfortunately passed away but it was the way in which he fought that was truly a beautiful thing to watch. 

He fought off the cancer twice just to have it return a third time. His family was told he had two weeks to live five separate times but Sager kept fighting his battle.  One of his son’s was a perfect match and donated marrow to help him continue to fight the fight not once but twice. On the third time an anonymous donor stepped up to help him.   

Patients who receive bad news about a terminal illness seem to react so differently.  It often seems that when that moment happens you get a glimpse of who they really are under all of the masks we often wear to protect ourselves from the outside world.  It has been said that looking into someone’s eyes allows you to see the content of their soul.  I think a truer test is seeing how a person chooses to live their life when they find out there isn’t much time left.  

Craig insisted he needed to continue working.  He wanted to continue living his best life and most of all he absolutely refused to give up.  Many of his huge, dominating and successful NBA athlete and coach friends were incredibly touched by his perseverance in the face of such incredible odds.  Craig talked to his doctor and they found a treatment plan that would allow him to continue to work even covering the NBA Finals for the first time in his 34 year career. This treatment plan was virtually unheard of but he used mental toughness and the love of his career as well as support of his family to help to get him through. With the travel schedule he endured matched with the chemo treatments it is hard to imagine how it was even possible. Somehow he dug deep and continued to write his own story despite the odds.    

Shaq said of him that he always asked the right question.  There is power in that.  He conducted himself with class and never would delve into the negative things other reporters might try to dig into.  He worked with the players and built their trust by keeping it positive.  

Last year he received the Jimmy V award for perseverance at the ESPY’s. I have included the link here in case you wanted to watch.  It is very inspirational.  It gives an excellent perspective as to the type of man he was. 

In the video there is three quotes he shared that I find very enlightening so here they are:

Time is something that cannot be bought, it cannot be wagered with God and it is not in endless supply.  Time is simply how you live your life.  

Whatever I might have imagined a terminal diagnosis would do to my spirit it summoned quite the opposite — the greatest appreciation for life itself.  So I will never give up.  I will never give in. I will continue to keep fighting sucking the marrow out of life as life sucks the marrow out of me.  I live my life full of love and full of fun it’s the only way I know how.   

If I have learned anything through all of this it’s that each and every day is a canvas waiting to be painted.  An opportunity for love, for fun, for living, for learning. To those of you out there who are suffering from cancer facing adversity I want you to know that your will to live and to fight cancer can make all the difference in the world.  The way you think influences the way you feel and the way you feel determines how you act.  

I think the last thing he said applies to anyone not just those who have cancer.  The way you think does influence the way you feel and the way you feel really impacts how you act. In the face of terrible life circumstances Craig Sager chose to take some terrible events and use them to Rise and Shine!  I think we can all find a ways to do that and that helps to carry the memory of him on. Thanks for being that amazing example Craig!     

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Sports Drink Drawbacks and Alternatives

Although sports drinks are very popular and are marketed to promote recovery and hydration.  There is some science that supports they may not be the best thing for athletes in every type of situation. This article has been put together to show some of the downsides of using sports drinks in the wrong circumstances and to bring up some alternatives that may be better suited for athletes at different points.  When considering the use of sports drinks there are a couple of things to make note of.  

Let’s start off first with some important facts Gatorade was formulated in the 1960’s by Florida scientist to help football players to restore electrolytes lost during competition. Gatorade is owned by Pepsico and their competitor Coca-Cola owns Powerade.  The two of those companies together make up nearly 100% of the market.  This market is about US$4.8 billion according to Forbes magazine.  Keep in mind that both Coca-Cola and Pepsico are in the business of selling pop which is an not an ideal beverage for an athletes to consume. Although  this is a sports product there are some drawbacks in terms of how healthy they may actually be.  

Sugar Content 
Gatorade has a lot of sugar in it and not just regular sugar but refined sucrose type of sugar.  This is highly addictive and very saturated within this drink.  The recommended serving of Gatorade on the label is 8 ounces which contains 14 grams of sugar.  However, athletes typically would consume the entire bottle which is usually 32 ounces.  This is about 56 grams of sugar being ingested which is the equivalent of sugar in nearly 2 cans of pop. Regardless of how much energy is being expended that is a lot of sugar especially considering the kind of sugar being used is the kind that spikes blood sugar which is definitely not ideal when it comes to optimizing performance during a competition. Spikes in blood sugar are incredibly challenging to overcome.         

Bad for Teeth 
Citric acid is also found in sports drinks this is very harmful to teeth on its own.  It is increasingly detrimental when mixed with sugar. According to the American Dental Association both citric acid and sugar can erode teeth and promote tooth decay.  According to a study by the University of Tennessee College of Dentistry Gatorade was more harmful to teeth than Coca-Cola and second only to Red Bull.  

Artificial Colours
For aesthetic purposes and to differentiate the flavours from one another sports drinks come with artificial colours.  Although these colourings are government approved there is some evidence that the colours associated with these beverages can have an impact on children and may not be as safe as previously expected. For example there is evidence that seems to suggest that with the blue dye that is used it does in fact turn your tongue blue. It also may discolour other parts of your body tissue including the brain. Some of these colours impact lab rats with cancerous tumours and also impact children with ADHD.   

One of the things that sets Gatorade apart is the brand ambassadors that use the product like Michael Jordan, Serena Williams as well as other professional athletes. What may be the most surprising thing of all is that although they may use sports drinks they may not be using it to the degree that people think they are.  Water is probably the biggest source of hydration these athletes use. They often use the signature green bottles which disguise what is actually being consumed.  According to some sources may even be a completely different sports drink called Biosteel which was the case a few years ago in the NHL. Please see the links below for more information on this.    

In the article “Is Gatorade Dangerous for Your Heath?” on the website the Heath & Fitness CheatSheet author Lauren Weiler wrote: 

So, is Gatorade really dangerous? It depends on your level of physical activity and how much of the drink you’re consuming — if you’re a marathon runner or someone who partakes in hours of strenuous activity, then the electrolytes that Gatorade offers may benefit you. But, if you’re just working out for an hour at the gym, then the excess sodium and sugar are not necessary, and water will do just fine.

It should be noted that when Gatorade is most useful is when athletes are training significantly and sweating profusely.  If they have multiple practices or games then sports drinks are useful if it is just one game or practice than water is fine.  

Post Workout Recovery 

Is Gatorade the best option for a post workout recovery?  One of the best things to drink is chocolate milk, chocolate almond or soy milk as it has so many positive proteins and nutrients which sports drinks don’t have. Take a look at this website for more information.

If you wold like to know more information about BioSteel which is a healthier alternative to other sports drinks.  These two links are highly recommended.  

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Playing with Passion

Whether it is music or a sport there is no substitute for playing with passion.  Going through the motions is so detrimental to growth, purpose and the performance itself. It also interferes with the ability of the audience to really get into it the way they want to.  It is such a waste to be gifted in something and then not show the passion to keep learning growing, evolving and displaying that skill to the highest level. When a player plays with passion it is like having a spot light on them. They stand out for so many great reasons.  They don't have to be perfect or do every single thing right but it is playing for a higher purpose that is so compelling.  

If you have ever been to a concert of music that you might not normally even like there are times when you can still be pulled in with the passion and the presence of the performer. It isn’t always exactly clear why they just might be incredibly captivating. Passion is a big time difference maker and can be responsible for extremely high level performances as well as the amount of time someone stays with their craft.  

Let’s be honest basketball is a “young person’s game” in that at some point it needs to be given up and moved on from.  Even if you can still play eventually every player declines from where they were in their prime.  This  goes for athletes that get to play the game at the highest levels of professional sports too.  No one is exempt from having to either stop playing or accept their decline when the time comes.  This is why learning to tap into playing wish passion is critical at younger ages.

Some athletes get the opportunity to choose when the dimer switch starts to turn the light off on the game and other times it is a switch that the athlete has no part in the decision making process because they may be injured or be dealing with other circumstances outside of their control.  This is why learning to tap into the passion of the game early is so critical because when the process is over it always feels better knowing that you gave what you could.  

Dig deep 

There are obstacles that get in the way of success like injuries, relationships with coaches, other players and so on.  Passion can help you to figure out why you are putting yourself through the challenges and it can also help to provide the motivation on how much you are willing to persevere through the situation in order to be successful. Passion can be tapped into so that those situations aren’t as painful to go through.  It helps you to be clear about why you are doing what you are doing and find a way to get through to the other side of the obstacle.   


It would be impossible to play with passion without some form of hustle as the two go hand and hand.  Hustle is a skill that must be practiced. You can’t turn off the hustle and then turn it on again with any degree of accuracy.  Hustle works best when it is utilized liberally.  On the court when someone is hustling it becomes very apparent that they are passionate because they are willing to do the little things that make an impact.      

Be infectious 

When a player plays with passion it is incredibly infectious to other teammates.  When you give more your teammates are often willing to do the same.  Passion helps to ignite energy within other players and really can shift the team in a positive direction.  

Here are some ways to be infectious using passion: 
  • Cheer on the bench when you are on the bench 
  • Celebrate your teammates when they do something amazing 
  • Make hustle plays
  • Give energy to your teammates by giving them high fives and positive encouragement 
  • Helping them up when they go down after a hustle play 
  • Take a charge
  • Dive for a loose ball 
  • Chase down a defender so they don’t get an easy look at a basket 

In closing, learning to play with passion is key.  Having a good idea of the reasons you play is very important to utilizing passion properly.  It helps you to persevere when things aren’t going your way and also helps to cope when you have to transition to another part of your life.  Passion and hustle go hand and hand to bring the best out of the player.  Finding ways to be infectious will help your teammates as well as yourself to tap into your passion more readily.  

Sunday, 27 November 2016

What's a Parent to Do? An Article by Kate Hays

This is an article from a Psychologist named Kate Hays about helping kids with their performances.  I had the opportunity to listen to her speak a few weeks ago and it was outstanding.  I was looking through some of her resources and came across this article so I wanted to share this information with you as I find her insights amazing.  She works with dancers, singers and athletes helping them to achieve their peak performance in high pressure situations. Kate’s website and information is listed at the very bottom of this article.  

What’s a Parent to Do?  The Advice Edge 
Constructive Ways to Give your Kids Performance Advice
By: Kate Hays Ph. D. 

Scene: the year-end recital at a music school. Nine year old Sarah (as I’ll call her) steps onto the stage and walks over to the piano. With worry in her eyes, she scans the audience of eager parents and friends, then turns back to the piano. Hesitantly, she starts her piece, pauses…and starts again. She stumbles through to the end and walks from the stage, head down.

As families later stream out of the music school, Stan, her father—newly arrived in town as principal of a prestigious school—hisses at her: “You have shamed me; you have shamed the school.”

True story….I was one of those leaving the music school at that moment and overheard his comment.
It’s a pretty dramatic example of how not to give your kid feedback. It does, though, illustrate aspects of what we all do: We identify with our child’s performance and we communicate with them at the first possible moment.

Who’s performing?
We care—passionately—about how our kid is performing. That identification is great—our child matters to us more than any other child. But: a central aspect of helping our kids become their own people is to differentiate between ourselves and them. That task is our job, not theirs.

Stan may have always wished to play the piano; he may have messed up some of his performances; he’s no doubt really uptight about his new role. That’s his stuff to deal with—not to lay on Sarah.

Sometimes as parents we lose sight of the fact that our children are just that: children. They have their own reasons for engaging in this performance area. What they need from us is systematic support to help them continue this learning process and to recognize their accomplishment.

While the end of year recital or final game of the season may be the most dramatic moment for assessing kids’ accomplishments, some approaches can be useful for any game or practice.

And as far as that goes, we adults can apply these lessons to our own performance, too.

Two things are vital to this review: timing and content.

When do you review a performance?

Right after a performance, people are filled with emotion. Being human, we tend to focus on what went wrong, what we flubbed…or just the feeling of relief that it’s all over. Because this is a time of heightened feeling, it’s exactly the wrong time to attempt any rational assessment.

When I ask kids what they’d like to do on that ride home from a game, or just after a performance, they tend to say: I want to listen to music. Text a friend. Stare out the window and think about nothing. Go for an ice cream. 

What happens instead? Typically, parents assume this is the teachable moment, the time to tell their kid what they did wrong and what they should do to fix it.

How about a different approach?

I recommend that you and your child develop a plan ahead of time for when to review their performance. Over and over, I hear kids look for a break before this discussion, whether it’s two hours or the next day. When kids and parents can agree on a time to review, everyone’s much happier—and the opportunity for constructive learning is markedly increased.

What do you talk about? The 3 Questions

Here are three questions that parents can discuss with their kids. These questions help people reflect and learn from the activity. They give direction for future action. They’re good questions for discussion between child and parent.
  1. What went well?

    2.   What did I learn—or re-learn?

    3.   What do I want to do differently next time?

Some people find it helpful to write down the responses, so that the learning can become cumulative.

These ideas apply, whether it’s end of season or the middle of things, whether you’re a kid or an adult, and regardless of your area of performance.

For some additional—overlapping but not the same—thoughts about end of season reflections and opportunities, check out a recent blog by colleague Dr. Jim Taylor @

For some additional ideas about parents and kids in sports—but applicable to any other performance realm, a couple of books are standouts in my mind:

The Cheers and the Tears by Dr. Shane Murphy
Parenting Young Athletes by Frank Smoll and Ronald E. Smith
For a well-written memoir about the struggle to handle stage fright as a pianist, Playing Scared by Sarah Solovitch

And as always, if you’ve got thoughts or questions you’d like to direct to me, feel free to contact me @

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Profile of an Amazing Coach - Lisa Thomaidis

Lisa Thomaidis is the Coach for the Canadian Women's National Team and she had an incredible year this year. I thought I would highlight her as I read an interesting article about her this week.  I really like what a powerful and successful coach she is. Some of the tactics and ideas are really perspective changing like the way she structures her timeouts.  Most players are on the bench and the coach is in front of them facing them directly and providing direction.  Coach Thomaidis angles her chair so that she is sitting beside her players to provide feedback and guidance.  It gives the perspective that we are in this together instead of the way other coaches typically handle time outs where they are at the helm.  To me it makes the circle much more inclusive in a way because of the room it opens up for other players to be able to see what she is talking about. Her back is only to a couple of players rather than all of them except for the five players in front of her.  It is a small change that can really shifted my perspective in terms of thinking about a different way to do a very common basketball things.  She looks like the hub of the wheel in a way which is a much more inspiring and collaborative leadership style. Given her success with her teams it seems to be working. 


Huskies Head Coach Has Year for the Ages 

by Scott Larson 
Sasktoon Starphoenix 

Lisa Thomaidis will have a very hard time repeating the success she has enjoyed over the past year or so.

The Saskatchewan Huskies women’s basketball team’s head coach, who carries the same title with Canada’s national team, piled one success on top of another.
Thomaidis started by guiding the national team to a Pan Am Games gold medal where they went 5-0. She followed that up with Team Canada winning the 2015 FIBA Americas Women’s Championship in Edmonton (again going undefeated,) which also qualified the team for the 2016 Rio Olympics. 

Then she spent a historic season with the Huskies who won their first-ever CIS national title this past March, downing the Ryerson University Rams 85-71 in the final.

Then it was back with Team Canada at the Rio Olympics this summer, where they made it to the quarter-finals before bowing out to France.

“It has been a whirlwind,” said Thomaidis, whose Huskies played their home-opener Friday night against Winnipeg. “It was one highlight after another. All I can do is sit back and feel so fortunate and grateful to have had all of these opportunities … Once in a lifetime experiences. I don’t think it is possible to top that.”

Thomaidis says the national team’s success has given them some well-deserved attention.

But, that success didn’t come overnight. It was a four-year build off the 2012 London Olympics.

And the same can be said for the Huskies run toward a national championship.

“We knew from the get-go that we had the talent to be able to do it, but so much has to go your way,” said Thomaidis, who is in her 17th year as the Huskies head coach.

“You can have the talent, but so many more things have to come together for you — you have to stay injury-free, you have to be playing well at the right time — to see all that come to fruition.”

She was especially happy for the veterans, who had put so much time into making the Huskies the best team in the country.

“To see someone like Dalyce (Emmerson, who is third all-time in Huskie points) finish off her career like that. She has a special place in my heart, in what she was able to accomplish here at the U of S. And someone like a Laura Dally (a transfer from Western), who took a chance on us and moved halfway across the country to join our team and have a shot at a national championship, and to do it.

“And then getting an email from Sabine (Dukate from Latvia who asked to join the team) and all of a sudden she becomes our starting point guard and a huge piece of the puzzle.”

Dukate is the Huskies’ only returning starter, as they begin a new chapter in their history.  And that suits Thomaidis just fine. 

“It was probably good to have so many highlights last year, winning the national championship and then with the Olympic team. It seemed like it was a natural end point,” says Thomaidis. “It was the end of a (four-year cycle) with the national team, it was the end of an era with the Huskie team. And now we are starting something new.

“Coming into this year I actually felt quite rejuvenated. Anytime you get a chance to start from scratch with a group of young players; help mold them and build a new team with a very different look. To see if you can do it all over again with different personnel.”

That challenge has helped take away any Olympic hangover she may have had coming into this season.

“I was tired by the end of (the Olympics), but coming here and seeing a bunch of new faces and new prospects helped me get over that post-Olympic depression or letdown that they talk about.”

She looks at her young squad as underdogs this season, but know other teams still see them as national champions.

“Even though this is a very different team than last year, we still have that S on our chests,” she said. “We have had a very good run over the last four to five years … so everyone is going to get up to play us.”

The Huskies resume their two-game set with Winnipeg Saturday at 6:15 p.m. (the men play at 8 p.m.).

Their national-championship banner raising goes next weekend, when they host the Brandon Bobcats.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Improbable Path: Jonathon Simmons’ Rise

I love the San Antonio Spurs!  One of the things I like the most is how they  seem to find and develop incredible players that really make an impact on their team.  The Spurs coaching staff find 'diamonds in the rough’ and make them into incredible players.  Many coaches go for the sure thing and the Spurs do that as well. However, what they have done over time is given athletes the opportunity to continue to grow, evolve and move up.  They find athletes that may not get much of a look on other teams and as they work with the system they end up thriving. This has definitely been the case Jonathon Simmons’ over time.  A few years ago he was part of the D-League and Summer League team associated with the Spurs. Now he has climbed his way up to being on the Spurs team and has had a couple of really great games so far.  I wanted to share an article that Lorne Chan wrote just to give some perspective on his path.  

Improbable Path: Jonathon Simmons’ Rise 

 By: Lorne Chan

When Jonathon Simmons walked into an Austin gym three years ago, he was one of 60 guys refusing to give up on a dream.

The Austin Toros held an open tryout at Concordia University in September 2013, where the requirements were a $150 registration fee and an accurate size for a souvenir jersey.

Some in attendance had pro experience, while others played their most competitive games in a neighbor’s driveway. Simmons was a relative unknown, with a resume that contained one season of Division I basketball and a few semi-pro games.

The open tryout is a place where everybody has been told no before. They are participants who have been told at some point that they might be better off giving up on basketball. 

They find themselves at a D-League open tryout because they refuse to believe what they’ve been told.

 “I try to focus on moving forward, but I still think back to that tryout all the time,” Simmons said. “Walking in with all those guys, trying to figure out a way to stand out.”

Three years later, Simmons is a 26-year-old NBA rookie for the Spurs. He heard a chant from the crowd in Milwaukee during a January game:

“Who Are You? Who Are You?”

Simmons responded with a career-high 18 points.

Spurs fans have gotten to know Simmons this season as a key member of the “Juice Unit,” the Silver & Black reserves who make up one of the best benches in the NBA.

A 6-foot-6 guard, he’s averaging 5.7 points per game with an array of high-flying highlights as he nears the end of his rookie season. His improbable path from an unknown at an open tryout to the NBA may be the ultimate leap.

A year ago, Simmons was scraping by to earn diaper money for his children. Now, Simmons has an NBA contract and the NBA per diem alone –money players receive for meals on the road – is more than he made playing basketball before this season. 

“I still can’t believe this,” said his mother, LaTonya Simmons. “This is one of those stories you see in a movie, but this is not somebody else’s story. I’m looking at the TV, and that is my child on the screen.”

Count LaTonya among those who weren’t sure about her son’s basketball future.

She saw him toil in 2012-13 with the Sugar Land Legends, a suburban semi-pro team in Houston. He’d score 30 or 40 points a game, but in front of sparse crowds for little or no pay. With nobody watching, calls weren’t coming in for Simmons to further his career.

LaTonya had a fallback career in mind for him. As a barber.

“He’s pretty good at cutting hair, and he would have built up a nice clientele,” LaTonya said. “I told him a few times in the offseason he should think about getting his barber’s license. Basketball turns out to be better than cutting hair.”

A tryout in Austin might have been Simmons’ last shot at pro basketball. With daughters to support at home, the barber’s chair was the viable option. Simmons was closer to holding clippers than facing the Clippers.

Tryouts are a key part of building a roster for the now-Austin Spurs. The entire coaching staff runs participants through six hours of drills, with San Antonio Spurs scouts and staff members in attendance as well. According to Brian Pauga, the Austin Spurs’ general manager and San Antonio Spurs’ director of scouting, it only took a few minutes to see that Simmons was “head and shoulders” above everybody else trying out.

“We saw an athlete who could really finish plays,” Pauga said. “He clearly had so much talent, but the work he put in since that day is why he is where he is now.”

Simmons was a raw talent at the tryout, having bounced around at two junior colleges and the University of Houston. He grew up in Houston’s northeast side, attending what was then called M.B. Smiley High. 

Simmons went to class enough to stay eligible for basketball, but there was little else for motivation at Smiley.

During Simmons’ senior year in 2007-08, a Johns Hopkins study labeled Smiley as a “dropout factory,” a school where at least 40 percent of a freshman class doesn’t get to their senior year.

Smiley was rated “academically unacceptable” by the Texas Education Agency, and it’s school district, North Forest, recorded an average SAT score - 748 out of 1600 – that was one of the worst in Texas.

In 2013, the TEA shut down North Forest ISD, and the Houston ISD absorbed the entire school  district.

“Jonathon was a good kid,” LaTonya said, “But there aren’t many kids in this neighborhood who are given a chance. He always had a dream of the NBA, but you got the feeling that it might be unreachable.”

LaTonya was doing all that she could to raise her four kids; Jonathon, the oldest, his younger brother and two sisters. LaTonya has worked at Houston’s Bush Intercontinental Airport for almost 20 years now, doing everything from working at check-in to taking boarding passes for United Airlines. She sent tens of thousands of people off on their dream vacations, without taking a trip of her own. 

Raising four children on her own, LaTonya didn’t have any time or money for a vacation. Working shifts that bled into dinnertime, LaTonya would take the four kids to McDonald’s, where they had their choice of $3 worth of items off the Dollar Menu.

“I still like the Dollar Menu though, no matter how much I’m making,” Jonathon said.

LaTonya is still working at the airport, where she’s added a mini-Spurs ball to the antennae of her walkie-talkie. She said strangers come up to her every day talking about her son. 

“Some people will just yell ‘Go Spurs Go!’ from down the hall,” LaTonya said. “Whenever I get that, and I tell my son’s story, it makes you think about how many people work their whole lives for goals, but they get so close and it seems so far. Jonathon had obstacles and setbacks, but he stayed focused.”​

Jonathon graduated from Smiley and attended junior colleges – one year at Paris Junior College and two years at Midland JC – as he worked toward qualifying for a Division I school. 

Staying close to home, he attended the University of Houston for his junior season. He led the Cougars in scoring, averaging 14.7 points and 5.0 rebounds per game.

Rather than return for his senior season, Simmons opted to enter into the 2012 NBA Draft. 

Houston coach Wayne Dickey said he advised against it, but Simmons was determined to declare.

He had another motivating factor: providing for his three daughters.

Simmons believed he was ready and had a chance to support his children. Others weren’t so sure.

"I didn’t want him to fall into the category of a guy who should have made it,” said Dickey, who is now an assistant at Oklahoma State. “We all loved coaching him. His heart was always in the right place, and he always wanted to do what’s best. But we didn’t know what was going to happen.“

Simmons went undrafted and was without a backup plan. He said he didn’t know about his D-League or overseas basketball options at the time.

“That was maybe the time that I really doubted myself the most,” he said. “I was seeing guys that I played against in college get drafted and go to Summer League, and I had nothing. I felt like I could have played at that level back then, but I had no options.”

Simmons took the first paying gig he could find playing basketball, and it was with the semi-pro  Sugar Land Legends. 

He was easily the best player on the floor, but playing in high school gyms, Simmons realized how far from the NBA he was.

He needed any sort of way to stand in front of a professional coach and show what he had to offer. There happened to be a team in Austin taking a look at all comers.

The Austin Spurs have signed players out of open tryouts before. Forward Eric Dawson, who grew up a couple of miles away from the AT&T Center, spent parts of four seasons in Austin and earned a 10-day contract with the San Antonio Spurs in 2012. Wing Terrance Woodbury and guard Devondrick Walker have also turned their tryouts into Austin Spurs contracts.

With Simmons, Austin coaches knew he had the potential to be the best player they had seen in a tryout. Now, they had to get to work.

“The D-League really lights a fire under you,” said Spurs guard Danny Green, one of five players on the team with D-League experience. “You see what it takes to make it to the NBA and how many great players in the D-League are next to you gunning for those same spots. A lot of guys should experience that.”

Before he arrived in Austin, Simmons had never spent more than one season in any system.

“He used to just put his head down and try to jump over you, and that’s just not life in the NBA,” said Austin Spurs coach Ken McDonald. “When he learned to see the floor in our system, from there he took off.”

Austin Spurs coaches sit down with players at the beginning of each season, and map out a list of goals, working on strengths and weaknesses. For Simmons, defense and outside shooting were underlined.

He averaged 10 points a game for Austin in 2013-14, and his first season in the D-League opened up some options overseas as well. Simmons decided to stay in Austin for another year, because he didn’t want to be an ocean away from his family, which now included four daughters. 

 “When you’re evaluating players, you’re also evaluating their character,” Austin Spurs coach Ken McDonald said. “In our notes on Jonathon, we made sure to put that whenever he had some spare time on the road, he was on FaceTime with his daughters.”

As Simmons returned to Houston for another offseason, the doubts began to creep back. Nights in Bakersfield and Boise wore him down and the NBA calls hadn’t come yet. 

“I tried to limit doubt as much as possible,” Simmons said. “You have to try to stay positive and go from there. Coaches kept telling me that I had to have faith.”

In his second Austin season, 2014-15, Simmons reached those underlined goals. His work ethic was second to none, and his 3-point percentage jumped from .284 (25 of 88) in his first season to .398  (51 of 128). He was named to the D-League All-Defensive Third Team.

But Simmons watched as teammates JaMychal Green, Bryce Cotton and Jarell Eddie all received call-ups, and he didn’t. Simmons said he was proud of his teammates at the time, but the situation was even difficult for McDonald to handle.

“All these guys around him are leaving the nest, and we don’t understand why he isn’t getting called up either,” McDonald said. “He was doing all the right things. But we had to just preach to him that he was right there.”

The call finally came in July 2015, while Simmons was on the bus with Brooklyn’s summer league team. His agent called to tell him the Spurs were prepared to offer his first NBA contract.

The dream once thought as unreachable was now a reality. Simmons would never have to think about being a barber again. He won’t have to worry about scrounging money for diapers.

“It’s surreal and also humbling at the same time,” Simmons said. “The process was a grind, and I don’t take any part of it for granted. It was a humbling experience, and now I enjoy this part even more.”

One of his first calls was to LaTonya, who said she spent the entire night in shock. Simmons joined  the Spurs’ Summer League team in Las Vegas and celebrated with a championship game MVP trophy as the Spurs won the tournament.

Simmons said he feels his journey is just beginning. He’s still an NBA rookie, after all. He’s scored in double figures eight times this season, providing a valuable jolt of energy off the bench.

“He just dives into the game, and he competes,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “He’s really got great athletic skills, and he’s a quick learner, a good worker. So he’s got a chance to be a long-time player in the league if he pays attention and sticks to it.”

Going from an open tryout to the NBA, there’s one part of his new life Simmons is still trying to grasp. He often runs into people on the street who tell him he’s an inspiration.

Simmons thought of himself as a guy grinding away, who took the long way to his professional dream. He was a guy trying to support his four children. 

He never thought about what people would think when he made it. 

“People say it’s inspiring, but I still don’t see it,” he said. “I just had to work a little harder than others.”

In February, LaTonya Simmons was on the other side of the airport counter. After 18 years of long shifts to provide for her four kids, she flew to Los Angeles for a quick vacation. 

She did a little sightseeing before she went to the Staples Center, where her son faced the Clippers.