April 11, 2014
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Four years flew by for Tennessee guard Meighan Simmons. Perhaps it's fitting for a player nicknamed "Speedy" who is known for her lightning quickness and penchant for racking up points in a hurry, so much so that she scored more than every woman to wear a Lady Vol uniform but four.
Simmons finished her career with 2,064 points, ranking her No. 5 in all-time scoring at UT behind Lady Vol Hall of Famers Chamique Holdsclaw (3,025), Bridgette Gordon (2,462), Candace Parker (2,137) and Tamika Catchings (2,113). She averaged 14.4 points per game for her career for the No. 9 all-time scoring average in school history.
In other career statistical categories, Simmons ranked first in three-point field goals attempted (740), third in field goals attempted (1834), fourth in three-pointers made (255), fourth in games played (143), fifth in games started (127) and sixth in field goals made (746).
On Monday night, Simmons will be at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn., where she'll be one of 12 players who were invited for the 2014 WNBA Draft. The first round begins at 8 p.m. ET and will be televised on ESPN2. Rounds two and three will be shown on ESPNU, beginning at 9 p.m.
The 5-foot-9 Simmons propelled Tennessee to a 117-26 record during her time on Rocky Top and helped the Lady Vols win two SEC regular season championships, capture three SEC tournament titles and make four NCAA Tournament appearances.
During her final season, she paced UT to a 29-6 record, an SEC Tournament championship, SEC regular season runner-up finish and an NCAA-record 32nd appearance in the NCAA Sweet 16. She also capped her college career in the same city where she began it, scoring 31 points in UT's 2013-14 finale on March 30 in Louisville, Ky., after making her Lady Vol debut in the same KFC Yum! Center with 22 points on Nov. 12, 2010.
Among her lengthy list of awards during her tenure on The Hill, Simmons was named SEC Player of the Year by the Associated Press as a senior and by the league's coaches as a junior. She was a three-time All-SEC performer, including first team honors the past two seasons.
At the national level, she was a third-team AP All-American as a junior and an honorable mention selection as freshman and senior. The WBCA tabbed her as an honorable mention All-America recipient the past two seasons, while Full Court picked her as a second-team All-America choice this season and a third-team selection a year ago.
Simmons recently took some time to reflect on her days at Tennessee. There's no doubt that the pride of Cibolo, Texas, made an impact on Big Orange Country, and her exciting style of play won't soon be forgotten by the Lady Vol faithful.
Looking back at when you signed and when you first came to Knoxville, was playing at Tennessee everything you dreamed it would be? How so?
"It's really been a fun ride. I wouldn't trade it for the world for everything that I have experienced here at the University of Tennessee.
"Winning the regular season my freshman year and winning the SEC Tournament are two great memories, for sure. Just being able to win a championship under the direction of Pat Summitt (during her final years) in that way was special. Getting as far as we did, with our record and how well we played and how far we got in the NCAA Tournament. Also, just really being able to experience the players who've come through the program and play together with them and being able to play under Pat (Summitt) and Holly (Warlick)."
You've had lots of great teammates here. What are some of the neat things you gained by getting to know some of these young ladies?
"Just never underestimating what their abilities are. Trusting in them and what they are capable of doing and never doubting."
Four years ago, you signed with Tennessee and now you are preparing to graduate and go out into the world. Where do you think you've grown the most? What experiences here helped transform you into who you are today?
"I would have to say making adjustments after a loss and learning how to deal with those. I know in the WNBA, there are going to be times when we lose. Even though that's not something we want to do, it's something you have to go through and learn not to take it too hard, but rather take it as a lesson learned. That's one thing I've grown from, is learning how to handle a loss. You can't really win unless you know what it feels like to lose.
"I think time management is the biggest thing I've had to learn since I've been here. Making sure I'm eating well, staying healthy and taking care of my body throughout the season. Also, learning to not focus too much on outside things but rather on things where I need my attention to be like school and taking care of my body so I can pursue my dream."
You played for two head coaches at Tennessee. It had to be difficult to make the unexpected transition, but how were you able to adjust and move on these last two years?
"I think it was just a matter of being resilient. I knew at any point in time, anything could happen. You just have to be prepared for that. I think mentally it took its toll on me for a minute, because I thought I was going to be playing for Pat for four years. I had to accept it. I had to respect her decision. When Holly followed in Pat's footsteps of being the head coach, I just took it in stride. Transition is hard, but I just used it as an opportunity to learn and grow from it and experience how to play under different coaches and systems. I think going through that will definitely prepare me for the WNBA.
"It was definitely a lot easier to grasp with Holly already being on the staff (rather than someone new). She was already my position coach. She had already been communicating with me, was there for me and knew me as a player. She also helped recruit me, so I was already comfortable with her with having her as an assistant coach. Her stepping in was a little bit different, because she became the "CEO," so to speak. There was more responsibility for her, and I think it gave me even more respect for her because she was able to take that position and be able to make us better players altogether."
Which things will you carry with you in your heart from your days at Tennessee?
"I think I will always remember the tradition, the reputation and standard of being a Lady Vol. It is very humbling to receive all of the good things that have come my way during my time here. The fans, of course, are a big part of that, and just being part of a great program where everyone wants us to succeed as not only basketball players but as women in life. I am really grateful for that."
You have been invited to Connecticut for the upcoming WNBA Draft. How exciting is that for you?
"(When I found out) My eyes got really big, and I was very, very happy. I was shocked, because I didn't know that was going to happen. There were so many different emotions, and I just really enjoyed the moment and felt extremely blessed by the opportunity.
"It will be exciting to be in that room for the draft and take in what an event such as that is like and experience the aura of everyone being drafted."
Have you talked to any former Lady Vols about their WNBA experiences or about what it is like being drafted and playing for a WNBA team?
"I'll probably discuss everything with coach (Jolette) Law and see what she says about everything. I'll probably talk to `Miko' (Kamiko Williams), Glory (Johnson) and Strick (Shekinna Stricklen) and find out how they felt about it."
Has playing in the WNBA always been your aspiration?
"It's always been a dream of mine. It's one of those things that when you have a goal, everything in your life has to become a habit. Since I started playing, I think I created some really good habits and built a strong work ethic and mentality that if I put my best foot forward and continue to work hard, I could put myself in a position to make those dreams a reality. I've been very blessed to be in this position, where playing in the WNBA can be an option for me.
"I was a fan of the whole WNBA growing up, but when I got the chance to go to any of the San Antonio Silver Stars games I was able to see the different players from around the league, the roles they played, the tempo of the game. It's just an interesting situation to go from sitting there watching them (WNBA players) play to (the possibility of) being out there among them and seeing how that really feels.
"I got to see the Silver Stars play a lot growing up. My dad got me tickets. My high school coach took us to a game my freshman year of high school."
How do you feel Tennessee has prepared you to play professional basketball?
"I think it has prepared me mentally and prepared me for situations and how to handle adversity. Tennessee, the games and everything we've been through have really prepared me to move on from here and face new challenges. I am excited to see how things go when I get there."
What advice would you give your current teammates and signees?
"I would tell them to always work hard. Never underestimate what their gift is. Enjoy each and every day and never let anyone tell you otherwise what you are capable of doing. It's about you becoming a better woman, a better player and taking everything the coaches are saying, whether it's good or bad and taking it as something to teach you rather than as something that is negative. It's them wanting the best for you and wanting to make you a better player. Always remain focused, no matter what. When you are focused everything falls into place."
You shared some words with the fans at senior day, but is there anything you would like to say to Big Orange Nation now that you've worn the Lady Vol uniform for the last time?
"I want them to know how grateful I am for them and always being committed to supporting us, whether we win or lose, and never giving up on us. Even when things may not be going right for us in a game, they find a way to cheer us on, no matter what. I just want to tell them thank you for letting me share my gift with them and for how they welcomed me to such an amazing place."