A year ago, Bryce Simon suffered the most devastating setback of his college career. The American senior forward tore his anterior cruciate ligament in the Eagles’ Patriot League tournament semifinal against Army. A year later, there was Simon, bulky knee brace notwithstanding, having one of his most productive games of the season in Sunday’s Patriot League semifinal against Army.
Simon, whose struggles to return from the injury have been well documented, said he really wasn’t thinking back to last year’s game.
“Obviously, I knew what [the game] was,” he said. “I knew it was about a year ago that I first had my injury. But honestly, coming in, I just wanted us to survive and advance. As a team, we’re at the same place we were last year, one game away from what we really want.”
In last year’s semifinal, Simon scored eight points in 12 minutes before going up for a rebound and landing wrong in the first half. Aside from a token appearance in the NCAA tournament game against Tennessee, Simon would not play another competitive game until Dec. 20.
Simon is not the same player he was before the injury. After starting 31 games last season, the junior college transfer has seen his role diminish. He hasn’t played more than 19 minutes in a game. But against Army on Sunday, Simon made the most of his playing time. He scored a season-high nine points on 4-of-5 shooting and grabbed three rebounds in the 15 minutes he spelled foul-plagued starter Brian Gilmore. Between Gilmore and Simon, AU got 28 points from the power forward spot.
“I was probably nice to get that production from us,” Simon said. “We don’t always get that many points in that position.
“I’ve felt like I’ve gotten into a little more of a flow and better accustomed to playing with the injury. I’ll do whatever the team needs from me. If Brian can play 40 minutes, let Brian play 40 minutes. Brian is playing great basketball right now. . . . Friday, if I don’t get in the game, that’s fine with me. It’s all about winning.”
Watching Simon on the court, there are moments when he is his old self, confidently sinking a three-pointer or making the savvy pass. But there are also times when his tentativeness and distrust of his knee cost him.
“The big thing with Bryce is that he’s finding a comfort zone, and that’s physically as well as mentally,” AU Coach Jeff Jones said. “In certain situations, certain parts of the game, where Bryce is very confident. But there’s other things, and they usually tend to do with moving with contact, where he’s just a little bit unsettled. If you saw his [four] turnovers, usually the play was a little bit faster than he’s capable of doing. . . . I think it’s kind of an ongoing process with him in terms of getting comfortable and confident out there. When the game is played a certain way, I think we’ll see him do very well and seem very comfortable. But then there’s other situations where he looks a little bit like a fish out of water. He just has to recognize those and try to get through them.”
March 10, 2009; 1:09 PM ET
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