As the Arizona State University women’s basketball team bids to make a run in the conference, look no further than downtown Phoenix for reasons of a No. 10 national ranking and a 11-1 record.
Well, a couple of miles uptown. Two players fresh from the dominating Phoenix St. Mary’s High School program have already made their mark in Tempe.
One has a start under her belt and was instrumental in two of the Sun Devils’ road wins and likely will be an integral part this season. Not bad for a dozen games into her college career.
“Me starting, that was an honor,” said a modestly confident Dymond Simon. “Me being a freshman, I’m not highprofile yet or anything. But I was excited to feel like I was back to my old self, back on the court, playing my game, getting everyone involved.”
Simon is averaging 9.4 points and nearly 18 minutes per game. The most any player is averaging is 24 minutes under coach Charli Turner Thorne’s frequent substitution system.
“Dymond is really driven to be the best,” Turner Thorne said. “She’s very mature, doesn’t get rattled very easily, very coachable.”
Simon and post player Kayli Murphy were part of one of the most successful prep squads in state history. The Knights were 89-9 the past four years, winning two state titles and runners-up another year.
Although playing Division I college basketball is a completely different experience, the two have found themselves in another successful situation.
“Like they say, college is totally different than high school,” Simon said. “I mean, high school, you are more laid back, having a lot of fun. To me, this is just like business. You are still having fun but you are there to win, win the game, they’ve gotten here. They are embracing what we are teaching them in terms of if you want to be great. They really have been impressive in how they embraced that and worked extra.”
Although both players have seen their share of minutes with lopsided wins, Simon and Murphy are definitely in Turner Thorne’s rotation of 11 women. Simon has been the first or second sub in the game on some nights, including last week’s outdoor game against Texas Tech. Red Raiders coach Kristi Curry said she even had to plan for Simon because, “she could go 94 feet and make shots.”
The diminutive guard, who averaged 15 points a game as a senior and scored 30 in the state championship game, made her mark quickly.
At the Paradise Jam tournament in the U.S. Virgin Islands, ASU allowed Western Kentucky to creep back to within one in the final minute after leading by 18 in the second half. However, Simon rebounded a Briann January miss and scored a layup high off the glass with 18 seconds left to help preserve the win.
The following Saturday, with three starters at the funeral of Aubree Johnson’s younger brother, Simon was pressed into the starter’s role against Big Sky Conference power Northern Arizona. She responded with nine points, five assists and five steals.
Then, in the emotional win at Gonzaga on Dec. 6, Simon scored 14 points, had three assists and three steals in just 19 minutes.
“They have a championship mentality,” Turner Thorne said. “Obviously they are everything we give it your all. Tough defense, do not back down, every night.”
Murphy hasn’t seen as much time, but already has gotten some attention. She has been playing about 13 minutes per game, scoring 4.2 points an outing.
“I knew I could, I knew I wanted to, but I didn’t think I would have to under the circumstances,” she said. “Intensity-wise, you can’t not come hard on one possession, you have to play every possession as hard as you can and not let off at all.”
Turner Thorne also sees what they bring to her squad.
“The biggest thing about those two is that they really want to be great basketball players,” she said. “They have from the moment thought they were when we signed them.”
Simon said the transition has taken some time.
“The hardest thing is the defense we play,” she said. “The coaches want us to be up in people’s faces. Of course, you cannot touch the person so you have to be quick on your feet. That’s what I’ve learned. I’ve gotten a lot better on defense. Because if I come in from St. Mary’s and didn’t know how to move my feet and move my hands, whatever, I would be getting killed every day.”
Simon said she knew she would break into the lineup at some point.
“I always had in the back of my mind, but it came true,” she said. “I was never going to doubt myself. Coaches have confidence in me and I trust them.”