The Trail Blazers used the No. 24 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft to select IMG Academy’s Anfernee Simons. Due to his unorthodox path to Portland, the 19-year-old guard is a relative mystery to Portland fans. In order to get a better idea of what kind of player Simons is, Blazer’s Edge contributor Steve Dewald recently spoke with IMG Academy’s Post Graduate Head Coach John Mahoney.
Mahoney has served in multiple roles at a handful of college programs, which included two stints under current Michigan Head Coach John Beilein. As a member of IMG Academy’s staff, Mahoney has played an integral role in the growth of high-level basketball players since 2012.
Let’s get to the questions.
Steve Dewald: Based on your college coaching experience, how would you rank the competition IMG Academy’s post-grad team faced last season?
John Mahoney: It was very good, it was very high level. The teams we play against all have high major players, the programs are very good, and the coaches. I like to play a lot of JUCO teams early in the year, so we played four of those before the season started. Then we get into our prep school league. Like I said, there are a lot of big time schools with big time players that are going to high major schools. So he [Simons] played in some good competition.
SD: You’ve coached a lot of talented players, where would you rank Simons’ play and ceiling next to those players?
JM: He’s so young, he’s a high-ceiling player. I think he has a lot of growth that is still yet to come, and that’s why I think it intrigued Portland into taking him. Because he still has a lot more room to grow, it is exciting for them [Blazers]. Jon Isaac was a player we just had. Jon is really good, he is still coming into himself, but I think Ant [Anfernee] has a little bit more higher ceiling.
SD: Speaking of Jonathan Isaac, how did Isaac’s decision to go to Florida State after post-grad differ from Simons’ decision to go straight to the NBA. Obviously Louisville’s scandals played a part in Simons’ decision.
JM: Every kid is different. Everybody has their own people. Jonathan wasn’t one of those situations, where Anfernee, we talked about it a little bit. But that was him and his Mom and Dad, [they] made that decision. Then they started seeking out, lets see what we can do. In the beginning I don’t think he really thought “hey I’m doing this” let’s see what I can do, and see if it is a possibility. We came up with that about November when we went up to a big prep school tournament in Connecticut, there was a lot of top level teams there. Someone brought it up, “you’re 19, you’re a year removed.” I told him “yeah, you’re right, they’re correct.” I think that’s when maybe the seed was planted, and his family ran with it, just to see what was out there.
SD: What position did Simons play under your coaching? Moving forward, what do you think his role will be?
JM: We run the two guard offense. Both guards at the top can be the point guard, or lead guard, whatever you want to call it. Anfernee was more of an off-guard, shooting guard, scoring guard. But he did handle the ball at times. We wanted to utilize him coming off screens and getting to the rim off the bounce.
SD: From start to finish in IMG’s post-grad program, where did Simons make the biggest improvements?
JM: Every level is different, you have to get accustomed to every level. Even the post-grad. You’re a high level player, and you’re coming in and playing post-grad, and everyone thinks “ahh this is easy”. It isn’t, because of all the other top level players in the country. Getting used to the speed and physicality was one of the big things early on. When we go up north and play, it is more physical. I think that was one of the things he got used to. That’s college basketball. Every night there are high level players.
SD: One of the critiques on Simons’ shot is his release point. Do you agree that it is a bit too low, and did you do anything to address it?
JM: Yeah, we saw it. I didn’t touch it. He shot 45 percent from three. There has been some funky shooters. There are a lot of guys that shoot different. It’s about getting it off quick, and getting open enough. I think [Steph] Curry shoots like that, Reggie Miller had a crazy shot, there are a lot of guys that have crazy shots.
If he wasn’t making them, we would have changed something. But I didn’t change it, I left it alone.
SD: Is Simons a coachable player in your experience? Does he receive criticism well?
JM: Yeah, Anfernee was very easy to coach. He was a high-IQ [player], eager to learn, talk about things, and ask questions. He wasn’t a know it all, he was always looking for different ways. I liked his demeanor in practice. One time he was hurt for a little bit, I wanted him near me so we could bounce things off each other, ask him what he saw. I was real impressed with his IQ on the court.
SD: Simons appears to let his actions on the court speak louder than his words. Would you say that is an accurate assessment?
JM: Yeah, he is quiet. He’s not going to show emotion, just a tough kid who goes about his business. He doesn’t boast or brag.
SD: Was Simons a leader on and off the court?
JM: Yeah, he stepped up at times when we needed people to. Vocally in the huddle, he would step up and do the things that leaders need to do.
Thank you to IMG Academy and coach Mahoney for taking the time to answer our questions.
Be sure to check out our article on Simons’ numbers from last season.
—Steve / @SteveDHoops / BEdgeSteve@gmail.com