The basketball season was closing out last March when Jake Simmons and Buffalo State heard the news. According to NCAA rules, Simmons was out of eligibility.
That meant the basketball guard was allowed just three seasons to play for the Bengals. That meant that a whole host of goals Simmons had set for himself would go unfulfilled.
But Simmons has never been one to just accept bad news. And he’s had the right people around to help him create the best of a bad situation.
It took three rounds with the NCAA before Simmons was finally granted his senior year of eligibility, just before Buffalo State’s season-opener.
Given the opportunity, Simmons wasn’t going to waste it. He quickly accomplished goal No. 1, surpassing Buffalo legend Randy Smith as the Bengals’ all-time leading scorer.
“When they finally said yes it was like a weight lifted off my shoulders,” Simmons said. “The reason why is that I set goals for myself. I set the goal to set the scoring record. I knew when I got the opportunity, when they said yes, I was going to make the most of it.
“Thank you for the opportunity. We didn’t fight this hard for nothing. So I was going to do the most to make my name mean something when basketball is mentioned. I wanted to become a legend at this school.”
Simmons had already taken advantage of some opportunities after life handed him some of the most difficult situations. A native of Rochester, Simmons suffered one life catastrophe after another. His mother got sick, then passed away. His house burned down. He watched, and suffered from, abuse from his stepfather. When he finally was able to enroll in a community college, he was in a car accident that left him paralyzed for 10 days and working to get back his physical abilities.
The car accident kept Simmons from completing any course work, but in the eyes of the NCAA, he had enrolled in college and so his “student-athlete” clock had started ticking. Per the rules, it ran out last March. But Simmons and Buffalo State coach Fajri Ansari kept appealing to the NCAA.
“I was out calling doctors,” Simmons said. “My coach was out calling doctors, trying to get information from people who could help us in any way with the case.
“The whole summer I was running around trying to find people to help me out. It got to the point where I called my coach and said if they say no again, I’m done. I got so stressed out. But coach said, no. As long as there are options, we’ll keep fighting. He kept me focused.”
And then Simmons focused on his goals on the basketball court. He scored a career-high 43 points against Central Penn on Dec. 14 to break the Buffalo State scoring record, set by Randy Smith in 1971. Holding that record is something Simmons hopes will open doors for him once his playing days at Buffalo State come to an end this spring.
“I really want to go out and play professional basketball, overseas somewhere or Puerto Rico or the NBA D-League. Something like that,” Simmons said. “I felt like surpassing that record, I hope a lot of doors open for me. I don’t want to just stop here. It’s always good to get paid for something you love to do and I hope some team takes an interest in me.”
After a difficult conference road trip this past weekend, Simmons saw his scoring average dip below 20, to 17.9 points per game, as the Bengals fell to 3-3 in the State University of New York Athletic Conference and 8-4 overall.
Simmons holds five other school records at Buffalo State – career steals (211), career three-pointers (285), three-pointers in a game (nine), free throw percentage in a season (86.4) and three-pointers in a season (94).
But there’s more to Simmons than just basketball. He came into Buffalo State as a theater major but changed to individualized studies, where he focuses on history, religion and philosophy. Because of the change, he will have one more semester of coursework to finish before he gets his degree. But make no mistake about it, earning his degree is a priority.
Along with that, he has started speaking to groups, telling about his life story and the ways he found to overcome obstacles. It started by speaking at his high school, School of the Arts in Rochester. Since then he has spoken several times at Buffalo State, to kids in his own basketball camp and at juvenile detention centers. It’s something he’s discovered he has a passion for.
“I could be talking to 50 kids or two. It doesn’t matter,” Simmons said. “It’s my second passion after basketball. I love to go out and speak to people about changing their life around or just making the most of the opportunities that you get. In life, things aren’t given to you. You’ve got to create a success path for yourself.”