Speedy Meighan Simmons fit for Lady Vols

When Meighan Simmons was 2 years old she ran into a wall and split open her forehead. She hasn't slowed down since – she has a scar to show for that collision – but she is under control on the basketball court, and that willingness to run has the Tennessee coaches carving out a role for the freshman this season.

"That's another thing that's hard for freshmen to do is being able to stay up-tempo every time," Meighan Simmons said. "That's how I am. I am an up-tempo person. When I need to slow down, I will slow down, but sometimes I just go fast.

"I get tired but I will continue to go fast because I know that that's exactly what it's going to take when we're in a game. You can't just stop and take a break. You've got to be constant all the time."

Pat Summitt stresses fighting through fatigue – players likely hear the phrase in their sleep – so it's simple to see why the coaches anticipate that Simmons will make solid contributions as a freshman.

Add to that mindset her ability to hit shots and get to the rim, and Simmons could be a factor on both ends – her skill and slippery style on offense and her speed on defense.

Simmons, who is from Cibolo, Texas, said she was an energetic child. She sports a scar in the center of her forehead that was the result of running in the house.

"I ran into a wall when I was two," Simmons said. "My sister was chasing me and my dad he was like, ‘Slow down.' A metal piece was sticking out and I turned around and as soon as I did, the wall was right there. I split my head open. They told me. I really can't remember it."

That may be for the best, as the incident did nothing to slow her down. That tenacity eventually led her to Tennessee, but it took a player having to go on medical scholarship and the keen eye of Candace Parker to land Simmons in Knoxville.

The Lady Vols had just one scholarship for the class of 2010, and it went to stellar point guard Lauren Avant, who committed to the Lady Vols at the age of 14. But when Cait McMahan's balky knees forced her permanently to the sideline during the 2008-09 season, it left an opening to sign one more player, and Tennessee went looking for a combo guard.

The NCAA paperwork on McMahan's status wasn't finalized until after the spring of 2009 and at about the same time, Simmons went to see Parker at an event for fans of the Los Angeles Sparks' forward. She got some words of encouragement from Parker at that event, and then Parker went one step farther.

Simmons played on a select AAU team that bore Parker's name, and the former Lady Vol legend went to watch the team play in Los Angeles in the summer of 2009 before the group left for a series of games in Japan. Parker immediately placed a call to Summitt and told her about the guard.

Simmons longed to go to Tennessee but had received just two form letters. With her senior year at Steele High School about to start, Simmons figured the orange dream had expired. She was heavily recruited by LSU and Big 12 teams – Assistant Coach Mickie DeMoss, who was then at Texas, had scouted Simmons and was very familiar with her game – and seemed to have settled on LSU.

But then another letter arrived from Tennessee, a call came from Summitt, the head coach and Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood visited Simmons' high school, and she made an official trip to Tennessee in October of 2009 with Avant. She returned home and then committed a few days later.

Ironically, DeMoss is in Knoxville now, too. She rejoined the Lady Vols staff in late May of 2010 with Simmons arriving on campus in July of 2010 after trying out for the USA U18 team.

"I think it was kind of crazy," Simmons said. "My mom told me Mickie DeMoss is now a coach at Tennessee. I said, ‘Mickie? Wow!' "

DeMoss is already sold on Simmons.

"She brings tremendous athletic ability," DeMoss said. "She is one of the quickest players. When I saw her in high school – I saw her play the maximum times we could see her play – she is one of the quickest players I have ever seen with the ball in her hand.

"She can get by people and get in little tiny spaces. That is probably why Pat is thinking, ‘I don't want to treat them as freshmen,' because they bring to the table what this team has needed – some speed, some quickness, some athleticism on the perimeter."

DeMoss told Simmons she was happy to see her when both made it to campus.

"She said, ‘I am glad you came here. It is a pleasure being here with you,' " Simmons said. "I think finally being able to play for her and Pat and Coach Dean and Holly (Warlick), I think just knowing her gives me more comfort while I'm here.

"Everything I do, she'll tell Pat, ‘That's her strength right there,' or ‘This is what she needs to work on.' I love Coach Mickie."

Simmons and Avant are also grateful to have each other. Avant was going to be a class of one – previous players in that position have said it can be isolating – and the two have become fast friends, to the point of Simmons intentionally mispronouncing Avant's last name (see video at end of story) and making her sound French.

"I think that is good for both of us," Simmons said. "We are more like sisters. If we need anything, we're always there. I think being around her has helped me make the adjustment. She tells me, ‘This is what you need to do to stay organized, be to class on time, you need to eat, make sure that you're communicating with tutors, if something comes up, you need to communicate with the coaches.' She has helped me out a lot since I have been here."

That help was needed as Simmons said adjusting to the daily expectations at Tennessee was the biggest adjustment. Avant attended a rigorous academic school in Memphis and has made trips to campus for years with her mother, Dana Avant, a Tennessee graduate, to watch Tennessee football games, so she knew better than most freshmen what to expect.

"The toughest adjustment is being organized with classes, tutors, knowing when and where you're supposed to be, what time practice is, how early you need to be, just being on time all the time," said Simmons, who added she has little free time "except for when I'm asleep. Other than that, I am usually at class, eat, practice, tutor, more homework and then sleep."

The adjustment that was smoother than she expected was being so far from home.

"Being away from family was the easiest adjustment because once I got here with the team around helping me and the coaches being there for me I think that that's what really helped me make my adjustment," Simmons said.

Avant mentioned that both freshmen have had chores that included filling the laundry bins after workouts with sweaty clothes, which are washed by team managers. Simmons said she also has had the duty of getting ice cream.

"Sometimes I like, ‘Can you get up and do it yourself?' but I'll do anything for my teammates," she said. "That's one thing you've got to learn, too. You've got to be able to be there for your teammates. In return they are going to be there for you, too."

It was a former Lady Vol that was there for Simmons that really means a lot to her. During that meet-and-greet for Sparks fans, Parker told Simmons to make college coaches have to take her.

"Man, I always wanted to meet Candace and when I finally got the chance to meet her, she encouraged me to work harder," Simmons said. "When I went home I said, ‘I will be in the gym every single day.' And that's what I did. I worked hard. I told my coaches I am going to stay after and do whatever I can to get better.

"You don't understand how much that means to me, especially from someone I have always looked up to."

Summitt has made it clear to both freshmen that they need to be ready to play this season, thus the individual workouts were a benefit as they learned terminology and drills.

"It benefits me knowing what my strengths and weaknesses are and knowing what I need to work on to get prepared for the season and get better as we practice more and learn the system," Simmons said. "I think my strengths were being able to go to the basket, come quick off of screens, and my weaknesses are remembering to deny the ball, bodying up on your man and not letting them to drive."

Learning to play collegiate defense has been, as is typical for freshmen, the biggest challenge.

"That is the biggest challenge because you're so used to, yeah, you played defense every now and then, but when you finally get to college it's all about defense," Simmons said. "When you can play defense you get more fast break points."

Summitt's instructions to the freshmen were to listen and both have done so in workouts and the full-team practice, in addition to being willing to ask questions of the assistants.

"She has told us a couple of times if we're a sponge, if we're willing to learn the system, be able to multi-task, listen and be able to react at the same time," Simmons said.

Avant added, "I am trying to soak up everything I can, trying to be a sponge out there. Vicki (Baugh) said to try to soak up everything, pay attention to detail. We talked about that in our dandy dozen. Discipline yourself so no one else has to.

"That was the one they gave to Meighan and me. Learn something the first time so we don't have to waste time going over it again. I've been really focusing on that."

Simmons, who still peppers her interviews with yes and no ma'am, is young – she won't turn 19 until Jan. 25 – and is a very lean 5'9. Freshmen can hit a first-year wall of fatigue as they are not used to extensive travel and a long season, and Simmons is already trying to decrease the likelihood.

"After working out you have to relax your body – rest and then continue to push myself not only physically but it's got to be mentally," she said. "When you're mentally tough, your body can take anything."

She also is excited to have the full team on the floor – the second full squad court workout is this Friday – because with 13 players (Alyssia Brewer remains out to recover from Achilles tendon surgery) it's important to start finding effective combinations.

"I think it's fun to have all of us together instead of us being apart at different times of the day," Simmons said. "I think it will create more chemistry between us since we'll be together a lot more."

Simmons will wear No. 10 for the Lady Vols this season – the number became available when Amber Gray, who is attempting to return to basketball after a stroke and surgery to repair a brain aneurysm, transferred to Xavier after not getting medically cleared at Tennessee – and it has nostalgic and biblical meanings for her.

"I've always had it high school," Simmons said. "My dad said it's the year 2010 and it's an Abraham blessing. It was a Tennessee thing. It was a 2010 blessing. I never thought this opportunity would come up.

"I think that was a part of Abraham's blessing. Getting things that you didn't expect. Meeting people that you never thought you would be able to meet."

Simmons also agreed to field some offbeat questions for a video session with InsideTennessee.com.

Watch here:

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