Sims' in-game mental focus key for successful senior campaign

Clif Reeder/Daily
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BY GJON JUNCAJ
Daily Sports Writer
Published October 29, 2009

ROSEMONT, Ill. – Entering the twilight of his college basketball career, DeShawn Sims already feels a sense of nostalgia, reminiscing about a time when his Michigan playing days were still in front of him.

Listening to the senior Michigan forward talk at yesterday’s Big Ten Basketball Media Day, you would think Sims was applying for Social Security checks rather than gearing up for the upcoming season and, eventually, the 2010 NBA Draft.

“I just get this extra consciousness that I’m too old,” the 21-year-old Sims said. “A lot of things I do, I think ‘You’re too old.’ And it hits when you realize (it). I’ll be halfway a step in the door: ‘You’re too old. You’ve got to turn around.’ ”

Though Sims jokes about how his accelerated maturity has put him in an awkward place on a social level, his figurative growth spurt brought a much-needed sigh of relief to the Michigan coaching staff this past March.

Sims said his in-game focus became as sharp as ever during the team's last five games prior to the NCAA Tournament. The Detroit native averaged 22.4 points on 57.3-percent shooting during that stretch to lead the Wolverines to their first tournament berth in 11 years.

“I had gotten this confidence about my ability that’s been so great for me, it just made my game excel four or five more notches,” Sims said.

Sims has admitted that he has had problems in the past with his focus, since his mind would often wander to matters in his personal life during games. Sims said it’s a habit he has struggled to break since childhood.

“I didn’t grow up loving (basketball),” Sims said. “I wasn’t one of those kids that played in all the leagues (or) had their parents pushing them. … I just played it for recreation, so I had to grow to love it.”

Sims's attempts to ignore private distractions were even more important when a late-season loss at Iowa put Michigan’s tournament hopes in jeopardy.

“I did a great job of blocking that out towards the end (of last season), and it became like exercise,” Sims said. “Nothing I have to think about.”

Now one of the elite post players in the conference, Sims has an excellent chance this season to increase his professional prospects after electing not to enter the NBA Draft last spring. Although Sims’ passion for the sport was an acquired taste, it doesn’t make the bond any less genuine.

“It’s sort of like a girl that you don’t like all the way,” Sims said. “Everything wasn’t right about it, or about her. But eventually, through time, you get to learn more about her. You get to know how instrumental she’d be in your life, and you start to love her. Until you (actually) fall in love, and I fell in love with basketball.”

Harris’ hamstring: Michigan coach John Beilein said junior small forward Manny Harris would practice Thursday evening after missing the previous two sessions with a hamstring injury. Harris suffered the injury in preseason conditioning and re-aggravated it during Michigan Madness on Oct. 16.

“I still don't think he'll be running sprints, but he'll be sprinting in our scrimmages and our full-court play,” Beilein said. “I'll hold him out a little bit, but pretty soon, we have to test it right now.

“We have to be very careful we don't push too much right now, but he has to get some normalcy to it, to get into shape.”

The Wolverines’ exhibition opener is Nov. 6 against Wayne State.

Spartans tabbed first: The media picked last season’s conference champion and NCAA finalist Michigan State to win the Big Ten for a second straight season. The Spartans bring back three starters from last year’s team, led by the reigning conference Player of the Year, junior point guard Kalin Lucas. The media also selected Lucas as its conference Preseason Player of the Year yesterday.

Purdue and Ohio State were picked to finish second and third, respectively. Only the top three teams are released to the public.

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said this year’s Big Ten is the best in ten years, saying eight to 10 teams have a legitimate shot at winning the league.

Notes: The Wolverines are ranked No. 15 in both the Associated Press and ESPN/USA TODAY Coaches polls, which is Michigan’s first preseason ranking in 12 years. … The preseason All-Big Ten first team was also released yesterday. The five selections were Lucas, Harris, Ohio State swingman Evan Turner, Penn State junior guard Talor Battle and Purdue junior forward Robbie Hummel.