Simmons Earns East-West MVP

GREENSBORO, N.C. --- It didn't take long for Jackson Simmons to let his opponents know how seriously he was taking the East-West All-Star game in Greensboro on Thursday.

Just 30 seconds into the West's 100-93 win, Simmons posted up East center Tyrece Little, threw up a hook shot over his outstretched arm and turned to say something to him under his breath after it went down.

From there the 6-foot-7 forward from Sylva, N.C. scored 19 points (7-15 FG) and pulled down 15 rebounds in an MVP-award-winning effort. Simmons was the second straight Tar Heel to win the award after Reggie Bullock won last July.

"It was great," Simmons said of the MVP award. "This is such a prestigious all-star game. I came in with the mindset of wanting that goal but then at the same time I didn't let it overshadow me because I wanted to win this game."

Simmons isn't usually a trash talker but there was an undeniable spark to his game early on. He consistently battled with the West post players under the basket and fought hard for position. After the game he acknowledged that there was a little extra competitiveness between himself and the East post players after some intense practices in Greensboro.

"There was some trash talk going on this week," Simmons said. "I was hearing it from some guys on the East. It got to the point where it really ticked me off so I just decided, you know what I'm going to go out there and show what I'm really made of and the ball bounced our way."

Simmons downplayed the trash talking a bit later on, saying it was just a product of playing against the best players in the state.

"We're all very competitive," Simmons said. "Those 20 guys that were out there are all a bunch of competitors and we're all going to go play college basketball so I wouldn't expect anything less."

Carolina fans in attendance got a sneak preview of what they can expect from the lanky forward. Simmons has made a reputation for himself by playing with a high level of intensity and that didn't change in the all-star format. He was active on the glass. He scrapped for loose balls. He got a lot of putbacks.

Simmons was also consistently the first or second player down the floor in fast break situations, creating easy scoring opportunities for himself -- a talent that could earn him some minutes early in his career.

"I love running," Simmons said. "I learned this from Tyler Zeller and it's sort of how I've always felt, too. If I make my man run the court, he has to make a conscious effort to get there. Sooner or later he's going to get tired and that's when you attack."

Simmons has had plenty of opportunities to work with Zeller this summer as he's attended second session summer school classes in Chapel Hill. He'll finish up exams Thursday and then come back home.

The freshman has gotten good grades in each of his classes -- drama and history -- but said he got an unpleasant surprise in his drama class last week when he saw Leslie McDonald with crutches for the first time after tearing his ACL. Simmons said he wasn't aware of the severity of the injury until class, thinking it was just a sprain.

"We're doing our final scenes and in his skit, our professor told him to get crutches and I thought it was just part of the act," Simmons said. "It was tough because he's been working so hard and it's been showing. He's a brother and when one of us falls, we all feel for them."

Simmons said he's not a doctor but he thinks there's a chance McDonald might come back this season.

"With technology today you're going to be back instantly, just like that," Simmons said. "He's a great kid and he's a great friend and a great brother to me. He's going to come back strong and I'm going to help him any way I can."

With or without McDonald, the Tar Heels have been mentally preparing themselves this summer for a run at a national championship. Simmons said the team is working every day to make it to New Orleans.

"We want to be down in New Orleans. I want to be down there," Simmons said. "I know everybody down there in Chapel Hill is expecting that out of us. We're just going to take it one game and one practice at a time. We're going to do our best to go down there."

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