Former walk-on is WSU's hardwood linebacker

PULLMAN -- The risk <b>Isaiah Simmons</b> took one year ago is now paying off in a major way for the Washington State senior swingman from Tacoma. After playing for two years at Warner Southern College, an NAIA school in Florida, Simmons decided to try his hand at Division I basketball.

Simmons enrolled at WSU for the 2003-04 school year and tried out for the Cougars as a walk-on. He so impressed veteran coach Dick Bennett that he earned a roster spot.

Simmons played a limited role last year, seeing action in 15 of 29 games, making one start and averaging a little under 10 minutes per outinge. At the end of the season, however, he was rewarded with a scholarship.

"I wanted to come back home," Simmons said when asked why he came to WSU. "I knew some of the players on the team, and I thought I had a good chance of to make it here. And I needed a break from that Florida weather."

At 221 pounds, the senior humanities major is built like a linebacker and sometimes plays like one. Teammates and coaches praise him for his strength and aggressiveness on the court, which is one reason why, at just 6-foot-2, he has been playing most of his minutes at forward for the undersized Cougars (3-3).

"He's just a hard-nosed kid. He'll do anything he's asked," Bennett said. "He defends, he rebounds, he never takes a bad shot. Isaiah is willing to lay his body on the line."

In five appearances this year Simmons has made two starts, averaging two points and 3.4 rebounds in 16 minutes per game. His assist-to-turnover ratio of 5.5-to-1 is the highest on the team by far. In fact, Simmons in one of just three Cougars to have more assists than turnovers, the other two being guards Josh Akognon (3 assists, 1 turnover) and Randy Green (7 and 3).

"I didn't anticipate Isaiah would be in the role he's played, but he worked his way in there and it doesn't look like he's going to give it up," Bennett said.

When WSU nearly upset No. 25 Gonzaga last Tuesday, Simmons came off the bench and played 26 minutes, grabbing seven rebounds and dishing out five assists while not turning the ball over once. He also helped the Cougars contain Gonzaga's frontline of Ronny Turiaf (17 points, seven below his season average), Adam Morrison (12 points, seven below his average) and Sean Mallon (8 points, four below his average).

Recently, WSU freshman center Chris Henry gave Simmons the nickname "Work Hard." One Cougar who can back up that claim is Green, who as Simmons' workout partner during WSU's offseason conditioning, said Simmons pushed him to new heights in the weight room.

"He's a no-nonsense guy," Green said. "You know what you're going to get with him. He's a fundamentally sound player. Everyone needs someone like him on your team if you're going to be good."

As a senior at Bellarmine Prep in Tacoma, Simmons led his team in scoring, rebounds, assists and steals. While he probably won't lead the Cougars in any major statistical categories, he is one of the players whose presence is necessary if the Cougars are going to win.

"I try to be everywhere I can be on the court," Simmons said. "Whether I'm diving on the floor, getting steals...just being wherever I have to be."

HOOP NOTES

* Derrick Low will start Saturday at BYU and Bennett said he wants the freshman point guard to play at least 20 minutes.

* Chris Henry will also play, but not as much.

* Thomas Kelati (10.3) is the only Cougar with a double-figure scoring average. BYU, on the other has three players with double-figure averages: Mike Hall (15.3), Jimmy Balderson (10.3) and Jared Jensen (10.1).


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