Fans of the Portland Trail Blazers likely took note of something significant at the end of the game against the Houston Rockets: with seconds left, Anfernee Simons stepped into the role of Damian Lillard and took the clutch shot. While Simons missed the final three, it showed a level of grit and determination yet to be seen in the young guard. According to Jason Quick of the Athletic, Simons has been working to create a kind of mental toughness and confidence he did not have before, and the absence of CJ McCollum has created an opportunity for that new aspect of the young guard’s personality.
“It’s kind of me finally saying enough is enough,” Simons said. “If you want something, you have to go for it, know what I mean? There is nothing bad about wanting the things you’ve worked hard for — so I’m like, don’t leave nothing out there, don’t leave anything to regret. That’s how I’m approaching each and every game: the m**herf**ker (mindset).”
He knows that he has to continue working on it to make it stick, but Coach Terry Stotts thinks he is prepared for those big moments, like the one in Houston.
“I think he is ready for it,” Stotts said. “(Houston) was really keying on Dame, and if Ant or Gary step into those situations, down the road that will not only be good for him, but good for us.”
The key change in his mindset, says Simons, is that he wants to prove it to himself.
“I have to continue to prove to myself that I can play at a high level consistently,” Simons said before the Houston game. “And that’s how it’s been this whole year: proving to myself instead of proving to other people, you know? All those people who talk about you and stuff like that … I just need to focus on myself and prove to myself that I can do it and do it at a high level.”
For Simons, one of the key changes is learning to embrace his emotions after a childhood where suppressing them was a normal part of competing in basketball.
“[My parents] know I can be robotic,” Anfernee said. “So they are starting to seek more out of me. Simple things like telling them my day was good, they want to know how was it good? Why was it good? And I’m finding it’s good to show emotion and to own the emotion. I don’t try to suppress everything. If I’m happy that I played well, I’ll talk about it. And it just helps me out a lot. Like, just letting my parents know how good it feels to play well, that just helps my mindset. It’s newer, fresh.”
As part of that process, Simons is learning to smile when he does well.
“I think that goes with what I’ve said about my emotions,” he said. “Like before, if I played well, I tried to hold my emotions so it may not seem like I’m happy with what I’m doing. But now, instead of suppressing, if I’m gonna have a good game, I’m gonna smile about it. If I’m shooting the ball well, I’m going to smile about it. Because I’m happy to be making shots and playing well.”
He’s also learning to communicate better while on the court.
“I sit there in silence for a second, just to get ready to talk and communicate,” he said. “It’s before I sub in, and I just sit there and think about all the things I need to do, all the things I need to say. I go through, and ‘make sure I do this … make sure I do that …’ and then I go out and try to communicate the best I can.”
Simons is dedicated to continuing to grow and change. Rip City is looking forward to seeing it.
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