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Shawn Simmons returns home with Saint Joseph's commitment

08/20/2022, 3:00pm EDT
By Owen McCue

Owen McCue (@Owen_McCue)

Shawn Simmons has visualized the sequence of events in his head.

A monster slam followed by a look to the crowd, where his family and friends sit and cheer him on.

It’s a scene that was familiar — albeit the dunks less frequent — to Simmons early in his high school career at Bonner-Prendergast and Friends’ Central.

But in recent years, it became tougher and tougher to replicate as Simmons’ basketball pursuits took him farther and farther from Philadelphia and his cheering section.

On Saturday, Simmons, a West Philadelphia native and current Upper Darby resident, announced that won’t be the case much longer. 

He is coming home.

Shawn Simmons announced his commitment to St. Joe's on Saturday. (Photo: Courtesy Shawn Simmons)

Simmons committed to Billy Lange and Saint Joseph’s on his Instagram Live on Saturday and expects a strong support system once again when he suits up for the Hawks.

“It will be cool to see after a dunk just to look up and see the people that I love,” said Simmons, who spent last season at Hillcrest Prep (Ariz.). “It will feel like high school all over again, freshman and sophomore year in the city. Every game I had it was packed with family.”

Simmons, a versatile 6-7 wing known for his standout defensive ability, joins an impressive and local 2023 class for St. Joe’s, which already includes Roman Catholic’s Anthony Finkley and Xzayvier Brown.

He chose the Hawks over a list of schools he narrowed down to also include Maryland, Xavier, Butler, Arizona State and UNLV.

He took a few unofficial visits to Hawk Hill in the spring and took his official visit to campus after Peach Jam in July.

At that point he knew he didn’t want to play anywhere else. 

“Some people might question why I didn’t go higher, but it was just about the fit for me,” Simmons said.

“It’s like family,” he added. “They want to see the best for you. They were able to tell me even if I didn’t come to their school they were still gonna support me anyway they could. Just seeing that it was like family, and they just wanted the best for me, it was like a no brainer. 

“Coach Billy, his player development in the pros, is going to get my game where it needs to be as fast as they can no matter if it takes one year, two years, three years. That just stood out.”

Lange, who took over at St. Joe’s in 2019, was one of the first coaches to recruit Simmons when he was 14 years old. The Hawks offered him back on Sept. 2, 2020 and he didn’t forget.

“I always kept them in mind just because they were early and that connection with Coach Billy and his staff,” Simmons said. “Ever since he first got there, I was one of the first guys he recruited. It was good to always feel the love throughout the years and to see that he never forgot about me.”

Simmons has ambitions beyond the college level, and Lange, who was a player development coach and lead assistant for seven years with the Sixers, and his staff outlined a path for him to get there. 

He described himself as a versatile player on both ends noting his length and athleticism particularly shine on defense.

“The versatility was one of the main focuses, how I could guard multiple positions and still fit in on offense in more than one spot,” Simmon said. “I could be a wing, on the ball, on the box, set screens. And my defense is one of the main things college coaches enjoy because of my length.

“ I could be a pest on ball and block shots and just the energetic plays I make for everybody, get the bench hype with my dunks, defense. I just always lead with energy. They feel like I can come in and be a leader even though I’m young because I’m never really scared of a role.”

Simmons knows former Hawk star Jordan Hall, who recently signed a two-way deal with the San Antonio Spurs. Hall’s development into a pro player under Lange certainly appealed to Simmons.

He and the Hawks’ coaches think he could be the next St. Joe’s player to make the leap.

“It was fun seeing his development,” Simmons said. “Being firsthand to that, I could see what they could do with people of high talent.”

“They definitely see that I’m a pro and I can play after my college career,” he added. “Their development on me will be to be more comfortable on the perimeter, more comfortable with my jump shot. And being the great defender that I am, they said I could go to the league off just straight defense and athleticism. They just want to give me all the tools that I need and once I get to the league just keep going.”

Simmons, who said he was also recruited by high schools to play baseball, started his high school career at Bonner in 2018-19 and then transferred to Friends’ Central in 2019-20, reclassifying to the Class of 2023. 

He played a season at Life Center (N.J.) in 2020-21 then headed to Hillcrest Prep in Gilbert, Ariz. last season to team with several other top high school prospects, helping his squad to a 31-3 record and the No. 21 spot in ESPN’s final school rankings.

“It was really fun because my teammates and I had a good bond,” Simmons said. “We were all away from home, so we all had the same feeling. We all tried to make each other feel as home as we could because everybody was missing everywhere they were from.”

Simmons also played his grassroots basketball for the D.C.-based Team Durant program and said there was resentment from some in the area after he left the city. 

There are no regrets as the relationships he built and extra year of development helped to get him where he is today as a player and ensure he found the right college fit.

“It was just really hard work and it was just time and building relationships with the right people and keeping the right circle that really got me here,” Simmons said.

He’s excited to be back, however, and noted he may even finish out his high school career in the area this winter.

Simmons remembers hearing stories of former St. Joe’s star Jameer Nelson as a kid when his father or uncles drove him by the school’s campus near the edge of the city.

After spending a large part of his high school career away, he’s happy to return home.

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