So what did I miss? — Peloton’s Jess Sims talks basketball — Must-click women’s basketball links
The IX: Basketball Wednesday with Howard Megdal, July 7, 2021
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I chose a nice, quiet week for my first vacation in three years. Nothing substantial happened in the women’s basketball world, and I felt prescient about selecting this week to take some time away.
I kid, of course. The incredible group I work with at The Next made sure to keep us all up to date on the unexpected developments. Lottery picks suspended and released. National teams made almost entirely out of sisters.
So as I return to the fold, here are my three biggest questions for the weeks ahead.
1) What exactly is the plan in Atlanta if Chennedy Carter isn’t part of the future? There’s ample other alternatives there, to be sure: this is not a team with a scarcity of playmaking guards. But it’s interesting that the Carter contretemps hasn’t led to a huge increase in playing time for Aari McDonald at the one, but rather Odyssey Sims. It’s worked, but are the Dream really prepared to go forward without featuring either of their last two lottery picks this season?
The Dream are a franchise in flux — you need to know only that the leadership in place now wasn’t responsible for the draft pick just a few months ago to understand that. I don’t think that’s a problem, frankly: new owner, new plans, new direction. But what will that direction be? It’s fascinating. You can be sure Carter doesn’t get suspended without the signoff of ownership.
2) Speaking of assets, what will Lauren Cox do in Los Angeles? She’s been in the rotation, quieting the questions about her health (18 minutes per game in three L.A. games) and only reinforcing the mystery of what the endgame is in Indiana. As I’ve pointed out in this space, two of the most important basketball minds of the past 50 years are Tamika Catchings and Marianne Stanley. So this is not some collection of amateurs trying to figure out roster-building on the fly. But to let the 2020 lottery pick go for nothing is yes, a function of the incredibly tight rosters and teams over the salary cap limiting trades, but also reflects the giving away of an asset Indiana could have had under contract with a rookie deal for years to come. I’m going to need to find out more about this as well.
3) If there’s a more intriguing team to watch at the Olympics than a Nigeria team with THREE Ogwumikes, bent on revenge after Nneka was left off USA Basketball’s roster, well, I don’t know what it is. Nneka and Chiney playing together is always delightful, and one of my favorite collegiate players to watch in recent years is Erica, the guard out of Rice who, in a league with more roster spots, should have had a pro career here. And don’t forget Elizabeth Williams! That’s a big, versatile frontline. I cannot wait to see them in action.
So yes, a recharge was great, and I buried myself in family. No, I couldn’t stop paying attention. And my goodness, am I glad to be back.
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This week in women’s basketball
Jackie Powell’s debut for Bleacher Report is excellent, as is a world with more Jackie Powell writing in it.
Good to see Meg Linehan writing about basketball. Really enjoyed this combo piece with Chantel Jennings.
Tweet of the week
Another day, another Renee Montgomery effort to change the world for the better. Sure means a lot to me that she’s a member of our advisory board.
Five at The IX: Jess Sims, New York Liberty in-game host and Peloton instructor
This one’s a little different. I’ve been enjoying classes with Jess for months on Peloton, and reached out after hearing her talk about her college basketball career. Serendipitously, I then saw her on the Jumbotron at a Liberty game I was covering, and a few days later, got the official word she was joining the Liberty in-game crew! Here are some excerpts from a fascinating conversation with her about her journey.
Howard: I am part of the Peloton family, and I noticed over and over again, you mentioning your basketball background and obviously, as a basketball reporter, that piqued my interest. So I reached out and then suddenly you were on the jumbotron at the Liberty game, and then suddenly you were working for the Liberty. So it was just such a cool getting together about it. I know we talked before this, about how this was sort of a way for you to sort of reinvigorate your basketball background, but basketball goes a long way back for you. Can you take me through that age six when you’re talking to your dad about playing the game?
Jess Sims: I actually just called my mom not too long ago to be like, mom, can you give me any other anecdotes that I might’ve forgotten as a kid playing basketball. And ironically, I remembered all the stories that she said, except for maybe one or two, but yeah, I started playing basketball at the age of five or six and it was a co-ed basketball team called the PVD Litfield Basketball Association, PLBA. And I actually ended up quitting after a year because the boys wouldn’t pass me the ball, same old saga, the head coach’s son always got the most playing time, the passes, all of that. And I ended up quitting for a year, and I returned a few years later.
My dad played college basketball. And so he has always been my number one fan and the one that would come home from work after working a super long day. And we had a little basketball court, half-court, in my backyard that he built for us. And we would go back out there to shoot, and he would talk to me about just the basics, the foundational skills that have carried me through everything. I played in three different leagues at one time: CYO, which is the Church Youth Organization, AAU, Amateur Athletic Union, as well as my middle-school team, my high school team, and then I played at Trinity College, where I was a three-year captain.
Howard: We’ve got to talk about that because people who don’t necessarily know the D-3 scene don’t understand that NESCAC is legit. Yeah, I mean, and so for you to be able to play on that team and in fact, I found an old scouting report that I’m just going to quote verbatim, “ferocious rebounder and low post defender for her size.” So much of rebounding at any level, it comes through will. It is not about size. What drove you? What made you that kind of player?
Jess Sims: Well, so interesting Howard, depending on the team that I played on, I was a different position. So when I was in high school, we had two six-footers. So I was the two. And then when I was in AAU, I played more of the three, four, five, because we didn’t have any super tall players. And my coach, I give so much credit to my AAU basketball coach, the head coach, and the assistant coach, who just instilled the power of hustle and heart. How much you want it outweighs skill any day of the week. And my high school coach always used to say that hustle without talent…I’m going to say it again. Skill without hustle is nothing. Hustle without talent is everything. Hustle plus talent is the ultimate. And my thing is I will never be outworked. I might not be the best player on the team. I’m absolutely not the tallest one on the team, but I will outwork because I just loved the hustle. I loved the sport.
Howard: And you had a leadership position on your team in college and ultimately becoming a captain. How much do you feel like that has informed so much of what’s happened since, whether it’s you’ve gone on to teach and then, I think this is still accurate when I’ve read from other interviews, you talked about Peloton essentially serving as a classroom. And how much does that inform what you’re doing on a day to day basis?
Jess Sims: Literally everything. It informs everything and Howard, life doesn’t make sense as it’s going forward, right? If you were rewound time and brought me back to 2006, when I first started at Trinity to now, in 2021, I never would’ve been able to say what I can now say now because hindsight is 2020. And I ruined everything about that. I was named captain my sophomore year and not because there weren’t any other vets on the team, there were, but I just, I guess, show these leadership skills of, again, I was recruited, but I was not recruited to be a starter. And I started and led my team in rebounds my first year. And again, that was just because I loved hustling. I wore the mouthguard. I wore the knee pads. I was the scrappy one on the floor. And I loved the challenge of guarding the best player on the other team.
So whether that was the point guard or whether that was the center, my coaches always knew Jess is going to live and die on this court. So I’m going to put her out there. She’s always going to give it all, and it’s contagious. So if you see someone on your team that’s willing to do all the dirty work and not care about the points. I never led the team in points. It cracks me up even to this day, when people say, oh, how many points did you average? I have no idea. It’s probably not that many but my rebounds, my assists, my steals, I was unmatched my entire career. And so that was one huge thing, leading by example.