The road less traveled

Two years ago, this scenario just wouldn't have happened. Top in-state players staying home to play basketball for the University of Washington? Hell would have frozen over first. Washington State would have won a Rose Bowl sooner than the Huskies keeping their own at home to play hoops. The outlook was so severe, so depressing to comtemplate that there was no room for optimism after Todd MacCulloch graduated. And Todd was from Canada.

The 7-2 center led Washington to an NCAA berth and a sweet-16 showing in 1999, and as soon as there was some light at the end of the tunnel it was snuffed as the Dawgs went 10-20 in 2000, barely squeezing out 5 conference victories.

It was simply unacceptable. And for an area that had produced so much talent (Jamal Crawford, Michael Dickerson, Jason Terry, Donny Marshall, Brian Scalabrine, Doug Christie, Curtis Borchardt, Quincy Wilder and omm'A Givens, to name a few), there were too many names that had slipped away.

Doug Wrenn was also on that list until he decided to return to play for the Huskies two years ago, so while the Dawgs struggled to 10 wins in thirty tries in 2000 and 2001, it was clear that a change seemed right around the corner. And Wrenn's return seemed to spark some interest locally in the two most recent recruiting classes, interest in players like Brandon Roy, Jeffrey Day, Mike Jensen and Anthony Washington to stay home.

But the back-to-back 10-20 seasons proved to be too much for Bender to overcome, and he resigned earlier this year. With the addition of former Husky Lorenzo Romar to the Washington hoops program shortly after Bender's resignation, there has already been a sea-change in how the inner-city schools view the direction Romar is taking the Husky hoops program.

"I would never have considered coming back to Washington if Coach Bender had still been here," said newest Husky commit Chester 'Tre' Simmons, a 6-5 swing guard that is ready to come home after nearly a three year odyssey that has seen him at three junior colleges (and soon a fourth) and a year 'running the streets', as he called it.

Let's backtrack a bit. 'Tre was a big part of the 2000 Garfield Bulldog squad that made it to the state semifinals before being upended by Foss 54-52. Simmons' former high-school teammates include USC junior transfer Roy Smiley, center Wale Adeyemi, Brandon Roy's brother Ed and current Green River CC stars Michael Thompson and Jamal Miller. In fact, that team was so loaded Brandon Roy and Anthony Washington were coming off the bench.

"They had so many weapons," said Bill Nance of TheFinalScore.TV. "Tre was just a steady guy in that system. He wouldn't blow up. He was very smooth." And there's no question that if Romar had been coaching the Huskies back in 2000, Simmons would have been a Husky.

But he wasn't, so Tre didn't give the Dawgs a second look. "In fact, a current Husky player told me that," he said, referring to the former Husky coach. "He told me that if Coach Bender was still here to not look at Washington." What he did do was attend Central Arizona College in Coolidge. That experiment lasted a month. "It just wasn't the right place for me," Simmons would later say. "I didn't want to be there."

And as of the fall of 2000, he hadn't played one minute of official hoops for anybody.

When Simmons found himself back in Seattle, he gave Bellevue Community College a shot but it didn't last long. About three days, to be exact. It was at that time that current Husky assistant Russ Schoene got to see Simmons. "I ended up running the streets for about a year, just hanging out," he said. "Then I started thinking about my life and what I wanted to do with it. I needed to change my life, give myself a chance to succeed."

With the help of his Mother, Sheryl, and Team Yes coach Lou Hobson, Simmons found his way to Odessa (Texas) College. "My Mom wanted me to get out of town," 'Tre said. And when he finally got a chance to play some basketball again, it looked as if he had found the right opportunity at the right place and at the right time. "In the fall (of 2001), I started the first three games, but then I didn't start again."

What happened next was the first in a succession of situations where 'Tre fell victim to what he calls the 'politics' of playing basketball at Odessa College. "The point guard there went to Odessa High School," Simmons said. "He was from there, so everybody wanted him to play." That was pretty innocuous compared to what was about to happen to 'Tre.

While he was riding the bench for the Wranglers, he was also being recruited. By South Alabama, specifically. Former Odessa assistant Matt Figger left to be an assistant coach at South Alabama under new coach John Pelphrey. Simmons' coach at Odessa, Orlando 'O' Ontiveroz, wanted 'Tre to go to South Alabama. "They manipulated me," 'Tre said, when he made a verbal commitment to play for the Jaguars. "The whole town (of Odessa) wanted me to go there, they pressured me in to making the commitment. But I knew I wanted to keep my options open. At the same time people kept bugging me about it, so I committed, hoping everyone would lay off me. But I knew I wanted to keep my options open, and I told Coach (Ontiveroz) that."

It became clear from Simmons' perspective that he was losing trust in the people at Odessa, especially the head coach. "I told Coach O (Ontiveroz) to tell me if any schools were calling me, but he lied to me," 'Tre said. So how did Simmons find out about Ontiveroz' deception? Through current Green River CC Head Coach Travis DeCuire, a friend of 'Tre's who was trying to help Simmons through the recruiting process. "Travis (DeCuire) told me," 'Tre said. "He was coaching our team at the Jerry Mullen tournament in July, and he told me that over 50 coaches had called Odessa trying to reach me, including Oklahoma State, Texas and UNLV."

"He's skilled, athletic, versatile and can play anywhere on the perimeter," said Mullen in an interview with the Seattle Times. Mullen publishes Mullen's Roundball Review, a scouting service for coaches with an emphasis on JC prospects. "He's a player, there's no question about it."

In fact, keeping Simmons a secret had gotten so hard for Ontiveroz, he actually told Simmons to stay in his room one day when 'O' knew Auburn was stopping by the school specifically to talk to Simmons about playing for the Tigers. "The coaches found a couple of people who knew me, so they were able to get their number to me," 'Tre said.

College coaches couldn't get to 'Tre through Odessa, so DeCuire became a bigger and bigger conduit for Simmons. "Coaches saw me at Mullen's JUCO showcase, and then they would call Coach O and Coach would tell them I was committed," 'Tre said. "Then they would call up Travis and he would say 'No, he's not!'"

And the University of Washington was in the picture as soon as Lorenzo Romar signed his contract. "The U-Dub had been in the picture and it was just a matter of time for me," Simmons said. "Actually, Coach Romar had been recruiting me at St. Louis. They were showing me a lot of love and then they came down to Odessa."

Unlike the other schools that had tried to get in the door with 'Tre, Romar made sure he got to see Simmons, and he was suitably impressed. "They came down to watch me before the Mullens tournament and were like 'Wow, we have to get you'. That's when they offered me.

That was in the beginning of July. Mullen's tournament wouldn't be until the end of the month, but 'Tre didn't want to wait before pulling the trigger. "At first I wanted to keep my options open, but I decided to commit in the middle of July," he said. "They had been showing me a lot of love and I really like Coach Romar a lot. He loves my personality. That's all he talks about."

He'll be coming back to Seattle, but his Mother was hoping he would fulfill his commitment to Odessa first. "She doesn't want me to come back yet, but she really doesn't have a choice," Simmons said with a bit of a chuckle. "I didn't want to go back to Odessa. I had lost all trust with the coaches." But before he can enroll at Washington he needs to finish what he started at the JUCO level. He'll have two years to play two at Montlake, provided he earns his AA first. And therein lies one obstacle that was recently sidestepped.

"I found out I can go there," 'Tre said of his admission to Green River Community College in Auburn, Simmons' fourth school in two years. It makes sense for 'Tre to go there for a couple of reasons. First of all he'll be a lot closer to DeCruire, one of his mentors. Also he'll be reunited with a couple of his old Garfield teammates in Michael Thompson and Jamal Miller.

Now that he's back home with a solid support system and future staring him right in the face, Chester 'Tre' Simmons can now go on with the rest of his life - one that has seen it's share of ups, downs and crazy twists and turns in his short time so far on earth.

Is Simmons' return, coupled with the admission of Roy and Washington, the beginning of something? Are Lorenzo Romar, Ken Bone and Russ Schoene committed to making sure the in-state talent, and more specifically - the inner-city talent, home? Well, the acquisition of Simmons' verbal commitment appears to be Romar's version of turning back the clock and righting a wrong that occurred under Bob Bender's watch. Would it be hard to imagine now Michael Thompson, Wale Adeyemi or Jamal Miller coming back into the purple and gold fold after being neglected by the previous staff?

After hearing Simmons' story, ANYTHING is possible.

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