Does Simon Have One More Surprise Left?

There was a time, not that long ago, when David Simon was viewed as a potential first round draft choice, a player with athleticism, good hands and a nice shooting touch as well as the size necessary to bang underneath NBA backboards.

Before the 2003-04 season at IPFW, CBS Sportsline ranked him as the nation's second best college center, behind only Emeka Okafor of Connecticut...a surprise no doubt to him as well as everyone else.

That assessment was certainly hyperbole, but it was an indication of his growing reputation as a bruising overachiever on a small Division I campus. IPFW, the combined Indiana University - Purdue campus in Fort Wayne, is one of only eight Division I schools that don't belong to any conference. The school had a hard time persuading talented players to attend IPFW.

Simon was a surprise to the IPFW's staff, a walk-on transfer from Chicago Loyola, where he played volleyball, not basketball. He quickly became the first IPFW Mastadon to harbor NBA dreams.

In his first year, he played well, averaging 10.6 points per game and 5.8 rebounds. The transition from volleyball to basketball was not yet complete, but the athleticism required on a volleyball court did provide him with some benefits. At the end of the year, however, he blew out his left knee and went under the knife.

The next year, though, all seemed well. He recovered and he fulfilled his promise of becoming an NBA prospect that year.

Named by Lindy's College Basketball Annual as "Pre-Season Independent Player of the Year." in 2004-05, Simon was also an All-American Candidate. He was ranked by cbssportsline.com as the seventh best player in the nation and second best center (only behind Okafor who himself was taken second in that year's draft.) In spite of being regularly double- and triple-teamed, he averaged 18.0 points and 9.8 rebounds a game. He shot nearly 60% from the floor, went to the free throw stripe an average of 7 times a game and even hit both three point shots he took. He was also a great student, earning a 3.5 GPA while majoring in chemistry/pre-med, enough to win him regional honors on the Academic All-American team. The only problem was his team went 7-22.

The time was right. Although he had a year's worth of college eligibility left, he lacked only two courses for a degree and off he went off to the NBA's Chicago pre-draft camp. He declared for the draft, but smartly didn’t hire an agent. He played well if not spectacularly. Scouts told him he had a good chance of being picked in the mid-second round, a comedown from what had once been projected, but good enough to fill a dream. The Sixers in particular showed interest in him. But while the 76ers were impressed with Simon’s wingspan (7’3.5’’) and standing reach (9’1’’), they didn’t have a second round selection that year.

Ultimately, it didn’t matter: not all surprises are good ones. Everything came crashing down the last day of camp. While running down court on a fast break, Simon somehow tore the ACL on his right knee. He would now have two surgically repaired knees. His dreams of being drafted doomed, Simon had little choice but to return to college for his senior year, taking one class a semester and concentrating on getting ready for the NBA.

His senior year was not as good as his junior year had been. His right knee actually recovered quicker than his left had, but his team was even worse and he became the focus of every opponent’s defense.

Typical was a 91-57 shellacking at the hands of Marquette’s Golden Eagles. As the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported: "The Golden Eagles also had to contend with one the best-kept secrets in college basketball, Fort Wayne’s David Simon. The 6-foot-10 senior, who some expect to be picked in the first round of the NBA draft, came in averaging 16 points and eight rebounds per game. Against the Golden Eagles, he managed just 12 points and one rebound. He also had four turnovers.

"Outside of a few dazzling post moves and dunks, Simon was largely ineffective.

"’We know he’s an NBA prospect and that their plan was to get him the ball,’ [Marquette Captain Travis] Diener said. ‘We had to limit his touches’."

He finished the season with averages of 16.6 points and 6.9 rebounds but with 100 fewer rebounds. At the end of the day, he was still an injury-prone player on a bad team, one who some critics charged lost interest as the dreadful season wore on. It didn’t help that in his second try at the Pre-Draft camps were not as impressive as the first time.

The reviews were ugly.

NBA.com, critiquing his Chicago and Portsmouth camp performances, wrote: "When he plays with passion, Simon looks like he belongs in the NBA. An inconsistent performance in Portsmouth left many scratching their heads. " The obvious implication: he wasn’t playing with passion.

Hoopshype said simply of Chicago performance: "Appeared to be outclassed and did little to dispel the notion that he cannot play in the NBA."

The predictions came to pass. On Draft night, there was no surprise. Simon did not get picked in a deep and power forward-heavy draft. He decided to pursue what they call in the business world "other options".

First, he got a chance to play for the Timberwolves’ summer league team. He didn’t play badly. He started four of the five games that the T-Wolves played. He also began to get more comfortable at the power forward position, a change from being in the middle in college.

Simon averaged 4.6 points per game, to go along with 3.2 rebounds per contest. The more telling figures were that he shot 56.3 percent from the floor and didn’t get into foul trouble, not easy for someone making the transition from center to power forward. And it was Simon who guarded Andrew Bogut most of the time in his NBA summer league debut. That was the game Bogut scored only 7 points. But still the T-Wolves did not invite him to training camp…although to be fair, power forward is not one of the Wolves’ "need" positions.

Mike Naditch, his agent, got some interest from Italian League teams, but ultimately settled on a "substantial deal" with Anwil in the Polish League.

Then in late August, the Nets made him an offer he wouldn’t refuse: an invitation to Nets training camp. He was one of the first players the Nets called on.

"It's going to be a challenge, but I've been taking progressive steps, doing the best I can, and hopefully I'll hang around for a while," Simon said in an interview then. He also worried about getting the "Frederic Weis" treatment from Carter. "Hopefully there won't be any cameras around, in case I get dunked on, it won't end up on any web sites," Simon joked. "I'll just have to keep jaw from hitting the floor, being in awe."

Just last week, he was drafted by the Idaho Stampede, where ironically he would replace Sam Clancy. Clancy is expected to be in Nets camp as well, battling for that same position.

He is in an ideal position in the Nets camp. He plays good defense and rebounds well, two areas the Nets are looking for. In addition to Clancy [who also blew out HIS knee at a pre-draft workout], he will be competing with Marquis Estill and who knows who else. Bottom line: What happens next with Simon is up to him: can he come up with one more surprise.

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