Masked Simms eyes hard-nosed success

Jan. 18, 2013 @ 09:42 PM

Jairus Simms now has something in common with some pretty good players in basketball history.

Since catching an elbow in the nose during a game late last month at Chattanooga, the High Point University point guard has been wearing a protective mask while playing.

He will do so again today when the Panthers see action at Charleston Southern, the leader in the South division of the Big South.

Wearing the facial gear puts him in a group that had to wear masks because of injury in the NBA. The fraternity includes Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Wilt Chamberlain, Dennis Rodman and Alonzo Mourning.

“It’s not that big of a deal.” Simms said of having to wear the plastic shield. “I just go out there and play.”

Simms gained admittance to the club after a Chattanooga big man fractured the side of his nose.

“I came over on the weak side to help on one of their bigs,” Simms said. “And he was real big and strong, He shot and came down with the elbow. He was frustrated so I don’t know if the elbow was intentional or not. But, I felt it.”

Fortunately for Simms, the injury is such that it cannot be fixed with surgery and must heal on its own.

“So I just wear the face mask and try not to hit it any more,” he said.

The game with Chattanooga was on the first day of a tournament. Simms missed the game the following night, missed a couple of practices because he couldn’t find a specialist over the holidays and missed two more games before coach Scott Cherry was satisfied he could play at a proficient level wearing the mask.

“We had two face masks to start,” Simms said. “The first one I struggled with because we had pads inside the face mask. It was kind of hard to see. After the first day of practice, the trainer found a second face mask and it was comfortable. I could see because it is actually on my face. But when I start sweating, it gets fogged up. But as long as I can see, we’re good. I’m going to give it my all.”

Simms returned to game action last Saturday against Gardner-Webb.

“The biggest adjustment was getting used to it, not focusing on the mask but playing through it,” Simms said.

“Sometimes when I’m in the game, I might try to adjust it when I’m on defense but it is not that bad. When I start sweating, it might slip or if I get hit on the nose, I’ll have to adjust it.

“I pretty much play the same game as before. Shooting the farther shots is a little more difficult but my percentage from back there is not too good (0 of 9 from 3-point range) anyway right now. I’m just distributing and pushing the ball up. I just keep doing what I do, playing my role.”

His role changed because of the injury. Simms started 10 of the 11 games before he was hurt. He has come off the bench in the two after his return, playing 20 minutes against the Runnin’ Bulldogs and 18 in the double-overtime win over Liberty on Wednesday.

“I’m not caught up in all that,” Simms said. “I’m in for the team as long as we win. That’s all that matters to me.”

To win against the Buccaneers, the Panthers must defeat a team that is 4-0 in the conference and has won five in a row and six of seven in improving to 9-6. Charleston has been led offensively by sophomore guard Arlon Harper, averaging 15.5 points per game. Saah Nimley, another sophomore guard, is next at 14.4.

“They are guard strong and we are guard strong,” Simms said. “We have an edge on the bigs. They like to run and we like to run. We’ve got to play our game better than they play their game. It should be a fun game.”