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Blazers guard Anfernee Simons, labeled NBA Draft’s ‘biggest mystery,’ impressing in Summer League

Anfernee Simons

Photo: (Bruce Ely / Trail Blazers)

One of the most intriguing picks of this year’s NBA Draft was when the Portland Trail Blazers selected 19-year-old Anfernee Simons, a bouncy, athletic guard out of IMG Academy in Florida.

If you’ve never heard of IMG Academy, it’s basically a boarding school for sports, an athlete-focused institution straight out of a Gatorade commercial.

The academy started out as a tennis school run by famous coach Nick Bollettieri, who has produced pros like Monica Seles, Maria Sharapova, Jim Courier, and Anna Kournikova.

Since then, it’s morphed into a multi-sport juggernaut, where athletes can get state-of-the-art training while focusing on academics in their spare time. Call it the Phillips Exeter Academy of sports. A prep year at IMG, like Simons did, will run you about $75,000.

Simons hadn’t originally planned to go to IMG–he actually committed to Louisville out of Orlando’s Edgewater High School in 2017. But he pulled back on his commitment after the FBI scandal rocked the program. Instead of committing to another college (several were after him, including Florida, Memphis, Tennessee, and NC State), he decided to take his talents to IMG, because he said, it would give him more time to focus on basketball.

“I had an opportunity to get better multiple times throughout the day,” Simons told the Washington Post. “I feel like in college you got three classes a day. That’s a big thing — a lot of time. That’s basically time that I was able to spend in the gym getting better.”

His typical day at IMG, according to the Washington Post:

“Started at 7 a.m. with a skills session and shoot-around. After breakfast, he attended a college-level class at 9 (though he did no schooling during the second semester) and then a shooting session just before lunch. He would report to team practice at 2 p.m., which was usually followed by strength and conditioning at 4. At 5:30, Simons had something IMG calls “athletic and personal development,” an hour-long session that included yoga, nutrition, mental conditioning, leadership skills or visualization techniques.”

“One of the best things we have is no time constraints,” Simons’ coach at IMG, John Mahoney, told the Post. “Schools can’t offer that. Those things, I think, are what separate us and can be so vital for kids who want to compete at a high level.”

Simons was a rare prospect in that there was no college or international film for teams to go on–so he was drafted based on potential. The 6-3, 185-pound guard was taken 24th overall by the Blazers, and they hope he’ll develop into instant offense on the wing.

He’s not any younger than Deandre Ayton or Marvin Bagley, or the countless number of one-and-dones who have entered the league through the draft in recent years, but the competition Simons faced in prep school isn’t quite the ACC, the Pac-12, or the EuroLeague.

Even Darius Bazley, who decided to spend next year playing in the G League instead of in college (he first committed to Syracuse), will face a much higher level of competition and be much more of a known commodity to scouts entering next year’s draft.

For now, Blazers (and NBA fans) can introduce themselves to the wirey 2-guard, who was picked before polished college stars like Moritz Wagner and Jalen Brunson, and former high school standouts like Mitchell Robinson and Hamidou Diallo, in Summer League.

Simons scored 11 points on 4-of-6 shooting in 17 minutes in his debut, then put up 12 points on 4-of-9 shooting and 2-of-3 from 3 in game 2.

He’s a little bit too thin at this point, and will need time to grow into an NBA body and develop his still-raw game. Still, he’s an excellent shooter with good size (6-7 wingspan) and the type of frame and skill set that projects well in the NBA.

We’d expect that he’ll be spending a little time in the G League over the next year or two, before he can take his place in the Blazers’ backcourt alongside Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.

More Summer League coverage:

Trae Young :

Hawks guard Trae Young is off to a rough start in NBA Summer League

Jairus Lyles:

UMBC hero Jairus Lyles holding his own for Utah Jazz Summer League team

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