A 19-year-old who bypassed college, Anfernee Simons was regarded as perhaps the surprise first-round pick of the NBA Draft last week.
After the Trail Blazers selected him with the 24th overall pick, he was called a project. A risk. A gamble.
Quiet to the point of being stoic, Simons on Monday listened to those labels stone faced.
Then he smiled.
“I don’t feel like I’m that big of a project,’’ Simons said. “All I need to do is get stronger, and I feel like I will be ready to go, honestly. I feel like once they see me play, they will know it wasn’t a wasted pick.’’
His confidence is borne not from cockiness, but rather from an assurance that he has put in the work. After all, he has been honing his craft since he was 5, after his father, Charles, identified that Anfernee had a special talent.
So he was pushed, hounded and molded, to the point of tears.
So when his name was called Thursday by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, he had a long, tearful embrace with his mother, Tameka.
“All the hard work I’ve put in throughout the years, the crying and stuff,’’ Simons said. “I’ve put a lot of crying in. So, just thinking back on that, I got real emotional.’’
His father today says he has some regrets. Maybe he was too hard, too soon.
Mistakes, Charles says, were made.
“It was like, it was never good enough,’’ Simons recalled. “When I thought I had a good game, he would be tough on me, saying it wasn’t good enough. So I kind of have that mindset now, that even though I’m doing good, it’s never good enough. You can always do more and more.’’
His father will move out to Portland with Simons, who turned 19 on June 8, four days after his first workout with the Blazers. He says he will be there for whatever Anfernee wants – a workout partner, a father, a friend.
“Whatever capacity he needs me, I’m there for him,’’ Charles said.
Simons’ first test will be the Las Vegas Summer League, where he will play alongside Blazers’ holdovers Wade Baldwin, Jake Layman, Caleb Swanigan and Zach Collins. Gary Trent Jr., a second round pick by the Blazers, will also be on the roster.
Simons, who at the NBA Combine measured a hair taller than 6-foot-3 and at 183.2 pounds, says he is anxious to get on the court because he hasn’t played 5-on-5 in some time. He bypassed college this season after decommitting from Louisville amid a controversy with coach Rick Pitino, and instead attended IMG Academy in his home state of Florida. It was while he was at IMG that he decided to declare for the NBA.
“There was so much up and down with the draft process,” said Tameka, his mother. “One day it’s great, the next day, you don’t know. He hadn’t been to college, and there’s so many people saying he’s not ready … and we don’t know if he’s going to get to go (to NBA) … so when that moment happened, it was like everything stopped. And it was, wow! We finally got to this point.’’
Now, there’s another point to reach: Proving he is worth the trust Neil Olshey has placed in him.
For Simons and the people who have been on this journey with him, they say it’s only a matter of time before Portland sees.
“It’s cliché, but it really feels like he was born to do this,’’ Tameka said. “He’s super competitive on the floor. I can’t wait for guys to see, when he is really locked in … he’s going to show you guys that he’s got something behind him.’’