Mount Airy’s Symone Simmons has chosen Catawba Valley Community College to continue her basketball career.
Symone has been part of a varsity squad that has gone 64-22 (74.4 percent) the past three seasons.
For most of her career, she focused on playing lock-down defense while letting her teammates score the points.
Later in her senior year, however, she stepped up her aggressiveness on offense, nearly doubling her scoring and increasing her free throw attempts.
Over the last six games — which included the conference tournament and state playoffs — Symone scored 8.8 points per game. After struggling mightily at the foul line, she shot 65.6 percent over those six games.
The senior stands just 5-foot-4, but often played power forward, using her muscular frame to hold her own in the paint. On offense, she used that strength and quickness to drive around defenders for layup attempts or to kick out to open teammates. She averaged two assists per game, feeding passes out to the three-point line.
“She’s very athletic,” said Tisha England, CVCC basketball coach. “She came down for our workouts. … I’m very pleased with her athletic ability as well as having the heart to play.”
In discussing what she liked about Symone, England said, “Her humbleness, willing to be coachable got my attention. … I know she’ll work hard to get where she needs to be.”
That wasn’t always the case.
“I wasn’t that easy to coach,” admitted Symone. “I had a horrible attitude.”
She had some success on the court in the eighth grade, but she wasn’t well disciplined.
“In middle school, I would end up with three fouls in the second quarter,” she said. “I have more control now.”
In fact, she fouled out of just one game all season and averaged just two fouls per game while leading the team with three steals a game.
“I think my defensive ability has brought me a long ways,” she said. “I’m pretty confident when it comes to guarding most people.”
When she got to high school, Coach Howard Mayo gave her the chance to play on varsity right away. With that, however, came more responsibility than she had encountered before.
The coaches expected more in practice and to be more dedicated in studying opponents.
At the same time, she wasn’t applying herself fully in the classroom.
After the first semester, her grades were low enough that she was prohibited from playing the second semester.
That was a tough thing to handle, she admitted.
“What keeps Symone motivated academically is sports,” said her mother Kendra. “Her attitude has changed a lot whereas before she might not have been as coachable as she is now.”
When he was inducted into the Mount Airy Sports Hall of Fame recently, James Holleman said that if it weren’t for playing sports he might have ended up in jail or dead. Sports can be a way to help children realize their dreams, he said.
Being away from the game could have decimated the student, but Symone instead was determined to get back on the team.
She applied herself harder and finished her sophomore year with the best grades of her four years at Mount Airy, noted Kendra.
“I’m very proud of Symone, how she has matured while she was here in the basketball program,” said Kendra.
What has been her biggest improvement as a basketball player?
“Losing games. I think I handle it better,” said Symone. “I still doesn’t like to lose, but I can accept it easier.”
“She’s learned a lot of good lessons from Coach Mayo as far as being able to lose and keep it under control when you’re upset on the court,” her mom said.
Her development as a person was as big a factor as her athleticism in getting Symone into CVCC.
“With me, I’m big on character,” said England, “wanting to get kids in that are going to be great student-athletes.”
She said she likes the senior’s “hunger, wanting to learn more of the game.”
This will be England’s first season as head coach after spending the past three seasons as assistant coach.
“The offense is quick, we like to run, transition,” England said of her style. “We play man-to-man, we play zone, do a lot of different things and being very creative.” CVCC’s league has a lot of explosive scorers, and Symone can help slow them down.
Kendra said she was proud of her daughter’s work on the defensive end. Symone was named the team’s best defender the past three seasons, the only player to earn the award three times in all of Mayo’s years of coaching.
As for how she heard of Symone, England said that she read an e-mail from Mayo.
“We evaluate each player and try to find the best school for them, the best fit,” said Mayo. “With Symone, we really thought the community college route was the best possible route for her … both academically and athletically.”
CVCC normally has an opportunity for incoming freshmen to have an impact on the team, he said. He is thankful that Coach England and her staff will give her the opportunity to continue playing.
“I like Coach England because I think she is good at knowing what a student-athlete is,” said Kendra. “I think she will be motivation and encouragement for Symone to stay on track.”
“They were quite adamant that Symone wanted to go play somewhere,” Mayo said of Symone and Kendra. “Which is good because having goals helps to keep you focused.”
“Going to this school, I feel like I have a good opportunity,” the senior said. Her mom has always stayed on her to focus on classwork, and she knows that she will have to take on that responsibility next year. With this coaching staff, however, she doesn’t feel like she’ll have to handle that burden all alone.
“At CVCC, we thrive on excellence in academics,” said England. “Since I’ve been there the past three years, we have not had a women’s basketball player to be academically ineligible. That says a lot about our resources, out staff and coaches. We care about the kids. They are students first, and the athlete part comes second.
“I’m thankful that Symone chose us so that we can give her the opportunity to get a good education.”
Symone said she hasn’t made up her mind on a major, but she is interested in criminal justice. She likes the idea of returning to high school as a school resource officer and possibly a coach, too.
“I started playing basketball at 6 years old and fell in love with it,” said Symone “I played a few years for the Surry Storm Basketball Club and had a wonderful coach, Alan Hiatt, who pushed me to be better at each practice. Basketball has been my motivation throughout high school.”
Alan’s daughter, Jordan Hiatt, was a teammate for three seasons and now attends Lenoir-Rhyne. The CVCC campus is in Hickory, just a few miles away from Hiatt.
“She’s reached out to Symone, and she’s really excited about Symone being right where she is,” Kendra said of Jordan.