When Deshawn Sims lost his brother to senseless street violence in early November, life as he previously knew it ceased to exist. Suddenly he was dealing with the emotions that accompany that kind of tragedy, while also attempting to maintain some sense of normalcy in the classroom and on the basketball court. Many times the hardwood was more of a refuge than anything else. It has been a place where he could work off tension and negative energy, and channel his thoughts to something other than the pain he is still feeling.
"It is all a mental thing," Sims said. "Sometimes I get days off and my mind drifts off to it, but as long as I keep my mind on basketball, I seem to do well. Knowing how important (the Michigan State) game was and how important the game coming up Saturday is, it has been easier to keep my mind on basketball. I know what is at stake and how important this game is to the university."
While the game has clearly given Sims something else to focus on, so too have his teammates. The former Pershing star can hardly put into words how much his new family has meant to him during this most trying of times.
"I can't explain it man," he said. "They comfort me in a way that is comfortable for me. They have a way of not letting me know that's what they're doing. They know they have to be there for me, but they don't do it in a way (that's obvious). They don't do it in a way that would just make me think about it more. They help keep my mind off of it."
Sims' mental well-being was his team's primary concern. Gone were the expectations that were placed on him as one of the most heralded newcomers in the country. They never expected for him to be able to function on the court as if nothing had happened. Sims' on-court progress was set back a bit as worked himself back at his own pace. While many players of his talent level might have been frustrated over their lack of playing time, Sims understands why he has been in a more observatory role this season.
"It's not a problem," said Sims. "It has been cool because I know the situation. It has to do with me not really being in as good a shape mentally or in knowing everything that we were trying to do. I'm not mad at all about my situation. I know it is going to get better. I just get in when I can and try to do something productive. If I can't, I just go back to the lab and work on getting everything together mentally so I can take another shot at it. I keep taking shots at it. I never slack mentally on trying to do something to get better or improving from my last performance."
Sims took a huge step toward getting back to his on-court self with his performance versus the Spartans Tuesday night. At a time when his team really needed him, he stepped to the fore thanks to a little prodding from his coach.
"The first time I got in I was playing passive and Coach Amaker kind of jumped on me," Sims said. "He let me know what he needed out of me. I told him when I got back in to the game I was going to give him my hardest and best effort out on the floor. So what I did was give him my best effort for the time I was in there. I just tried to be a positive influence on the team."
Sims was just that, notching six consecutive points to give his team an offensive boost. His first basket came when took advantage of an opening by driving and spinning in the paint for a mid-range jumper. It was a play that he made instinctually, which is something he became more open to doing after a recent conversation with another one of his coaches.
"I was talking to Coach Jack the other day and he told me to play my game," Sims recalled. "He told me to play the way I used to play. I'm taking what Coach Jack said and putting it into perspective. He is backing me up. He had a part in recruiting me so he knows that's my game.. I'm bringing it back slowly but surely."
"No one ever put any locks on me… not the coaches or anyone," he
continued. "I put that on myself. Coach Jack gave me enough
confidence to go back to my style of play instead of trying to change my whole
thing up. Like I said, no one ever limited me. I just put that
lock on myself because I didn't know if that's what they wanted from me. That
lock is slowly but surely unlocking. I am coming into my own. Before
you know it I will be back to my style of play fully."