Symone Simmons was full of surprises Thursday night.
“I play the saxophone,” the Wright State senior guard said. “All four of them: alto, tenor, soprano and baritone. I started playing with the middle school band and when I got to high school I was in the jazz band.”
Another thing you might not expect: When the 21-year-old from Westerville North High School listens to music, most of it is from a generation past:
“I’m really into ‘90s R & B and hip hop, stuff like Biggie (Smalls), Tupac, Erykah Badu and Jill Scott.”
That embrace of a time past – in many things, not just music – is why she’s heard more than one person refer to her as “an old soul.”
And then there was this admission.
In real life she is no biggie, at least not the 5-foot-10 she’s listed as on the official Wright State roster.
“Naah, I’m actually 5-foot-7 ½,” she smiled. “My arms are really long though, so it kind of makes me look taller.”
And, in part, it’s because of that that we get to the least surprising thing from her Thursday night.
Simmons pulled down 15 rebounds and scored 15 points to lead Wright State – now 17-5 – to an easy 72-46 victory over the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) at the Nutter Center.
It was her third double-double in the past four games and she now leads the Horizon League in rebounding with a 9.0 per game average.
Last Sunday, in a win over Detroit Mercy, she grabbed 11 rebounds to become the Raiders all-time career rebounding leader, passing Lori Collins, who had 897 rebounds from 1991-94.
By the time the season ends – if Simmons keeps up her board work and her 7.8 points per game scoring average – she’ll surpass both 1,000 rebounds and 1,000 points in her career.
Yet, unless it’s her saxophone, she’s not one to blow her own horn. In fact, going into last Sunday’s game, she didn’t realize she was about to eclipse a record that had stood for a quarter century.
“It was nothing she focused on, it’s just that all of a sudden it was there,” said her mom, Denise, who works at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus. “She didn’t even realize she was going to break a record until one of her teammates said, ‘My dad’s bringing a sign for you to the game.’
“And Symone said, ‘For what?’”
She now has 936 points and 918 rebounds in her career.
This Raiders already have two other starters who have topped 1,000 career points: point guard Emily Vogelpohl (1,256 ) and shooting guard Mackenzie Taylor (1,158.)
Against UIC, Vogelpohl had 11 points and 6-foot-4 sophomore center Tyler Frierson had 12 points and eight rebounds.
Twelve Raiders played Thursday and 11 scored. It’s a repeating scenario this season and it prompted Simmons to say this is the best team she’s ever been on at Wright State.
Head coach Katrina Merriweather – an assistant to former WSU coach Mike Bradbury for six years before taking over the program three seasons ago – had a similar view:
“Mike (now at New Mexico) and I still talk once a week. He’s watched us play multiple times and he agrees. This is the most talent, top to bottom, we’ve ever had in nine years at Wright State.”
After Thursday’ game, Kim Demmings – an administrative assistant on the WSU staff, who reigns as the all-time leading scorer, for men or women, in Wright State history with 2,677 points, is the Horizon League’s all-time scorer and with Tay’ler Mingo (now a pro in Sweden) led the Raiders to their only NCAA tournament appearance in 2014 – concurred:
“This team has more talent and could be better than any team we’ve ever had here, including the one with me and Mingo that went to the Tournament.”
Simmons said there is no drop off when Merriweather makes a complete lineup change, which she does often in a game: “Nothing changes.”
She’s not quite right.
There’s no one else who rebounds like Simmons.
As Chelsea Welch – the former WSU star who was the Horizon League Player of the Year in 2018 and now plays professionally in Portugal – put it last year:
“Symone Simmons is a monster on the boards. A real monster.”
Finding her place
Merriweather said Simmons made herself monstrous: “She came in here with a class that was very talented. Emily Vogelpohl came in and started at the point and Mack (Mackenzie Taylor) was a shooter who’s now transitioned into an all-around scorer.
“That’s when Symone found her niche. She found a way to offer what everyone else in that class did not. She rebounded.
“It’s not the sexy thing to do. No one says, ‘I want to come to Wright State and be the all-time leading rebounder,’ but that what she’s become. And it’s pretty unbelievable. We list her at 5-10, but that’s just for effect. The kid is a couple inches shorter.
“So what she does is all about instinct, heart and determination.”
And those long arms.
“Her wingspan is like a person’s who’s 5-10,” said her mom, who admitted it’s tough finding her shirts where the sleeves aren’t too short.
“If you look at her you wouldn’t think she’d be the one to always get the rebound,” said Frierson, who splits time in the post with Imani Partlow, a sturdy 6-foot-1 grad transfer from Xavier. “The other team will be going, ‘Get the big ones! Get the big ones!’ and then you see Symone come in and she might be arching her back to get to it, but she puts that long arm up and does.”
Simmons explained her drive:
“When I see the ball, I just have to get it. That’s my mentality: ‘Attack it and get it.’ And if I don’t get it, I try to make sure one of my teammates does. One thing for sure, I’m determined the other team is definitely not going to get it.”
‘A big family’
Her Wright State teammates still call her Junior.
When she first got to Wright State, Simmons said Symone Denham already was on the team and people were getting them confused, so she was dubbed Junior.
Denham now coaches at New Mexico, but Simmons is still Junior.
“The name just stuck,” she said.
Except with he guy sitting courtside Thursday night who kept referring to her as “2-3,” her jersey number.
“That’s my dad (Carl),” she said. “He never uses my name. My whole career he’s called me ‘2-3.’”
Since her freshman year she said her parents have come to every home game and most on the road:
“They’re my No. 1 fans.”
Denise said Wright State has been “an awesome place” for their daughter: “The way they treat her, it’s like a big family.”
Symone said it starts with Merriweather and the rest of the coaches and goes through the entire team: “That’s the real environment here. Anybody could feel comfortable sending their kid here for four years. It is family.”
And yet there seems to be at least one family secret.
Simmons admits none of the other Raiders has heard her play the saxophone. And she said she doesn’t know if any of them even know she plays it and was in a jazz band:
“My saxophone’s at home. I never brought it here. It’s really loud and I didn’t want to get any noise complaints from people I live around.”
With Symone Simmons there have been no complaints.
She makes all her noise on the boards out on the court.