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For Yokohama star Simmons, the defense never rests


It shouldn’t be shocking when team leaders are mirror images of their head coaches or managers.

On the basketball court, this manifests itself in how a point guard runs the team on offense and spearheads its defensive effort.

Take a look at how Marcus Simmons has fit into Yokohama B-Corsairs coach Reggie Geary’s system and you’ll begin to see these concepts at work.

Even if the expansion B-Corsairs have been in existence for only six games, Simmons is already a focal point of the team’s play at both ends of the floor.

The USC product is Yokohama’s top scorer, averaging 16.3 points per game (two more total points than forward and fellow rookie Justin Burrell), and No. 1 in assists, steals and minutes played.

Simmons’ contributions go beyond his personal statistics. Here’s the unfiltered truth: Simmons’ defensive tenacity and effectiveness don’t surprise Geary, who was known for his stellar defensive skills during his days as a University of Arizona backcourt standout before a brief career in the NBA.

After Sunday’s 81-61 victory over the host Chiba Jets, Geary analyzed the way Simmons has boldly emerged as a leader and a defensive stopper for a team still without a true identity.

The 23-year-old Simmons’ strength and physical ability enable him to make his mark in the bj-league.

Geary summed it up this way: “The great pride that it takes in being a shut-down defender” is a trademark of Simmons’ play.

“We ask a lot of him, on most nights 40 minutes, and he just takes great effort in sacrificing everything and giving everything to the team,” the coach added.

Simmons had 18 points, eight rebounds, six assists, one steal and one blocked shot in just under 32 minutes on Sunday. His all-around solid play was perhaps the biggest factor in helping Yokohama earn a series split for the third straight week.

The B-Corsairs (3-3) return home to face the Niigata Albirex BB on Nov. 2-3.

“The games we’ve been losing we’ve been letting (the lead) slip (away), so we’ve got to come together as a team,” Simmons told Hoop Scoop at Funabashi Arena.

On Sunday, Yokohama “just had to bounce back,” he declared. “. . . We just had to get it done today.”

And that’s precisely what it did, with Simmons leading the charge. Simmons, though, is smart enough to realize the team’s successes and growth will be a group accomplishment. He praises the effort of fellow point guard Kenji Yamada for his vocal leadership along with backcourt mate Masayuki Kabaya.

Versatility is a chief characteristic of Simmons’ approach to defense.

Listen to his explanation: “It just depends on the player. If he’s a good shooter, I’ll get up on him and make him work for everything. If he’s a good ball handler, I’ll make him back off and try to make him shoot and contest his shot.

“Defense has always been my trademark ever since elementary (school). I just try to make players work hard and also it makes me play better on offense, I think. Overall it just makes me get going.”

Simmons told me that defensive stops fire him up and prepare him to be in “attack mode” on offense.

As a kid, Simmons grew up hearing about Geary, now 38, and that era of Pac-10 basketball players. Now, the two are linked on the same team in Japan with common backgrounds.

But before he arrived in Japan, the former Trojans guard recalled hearing, “Actually, when we played Arizona I heard his name. Everybody was telling me that I remind them of Coach Geary because he was a tough-nosed defender in college, and everybody was telling me I resembled him.”

Simmons was the 2011 Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year, while Geary wrapped up his collegiate career as an All-Pac-10 guard.

Jets forward Gaston Moliva has played against Simmons and the B-Corsairs twice in this young season, and already knows that the Yokohama guard will be a tough matchup for him and his teammates.

With the ball in his hands, “Simmons always drives hard to the basket,” Moliva noted, “and that attracts the defense, which leaves other guys open.”

Chiba coach Eric Gardow said, “It’s hard when they are that aggressive inside.”

Credit Simmons for being the ring leader of the B-Corsairs’ interior penetration and a headache for Gardow and his players.

“What concerned me is we didn’t get stops on defense,” Gardow said Sunday.

The Jets, of course, will shift their focus now to facing the winless Takamatsu Five Arrows for the first time.

Geary, with a long layoff before the team’s next game, will continue to challenge his players. After all, he has high standards and expects his players to strive for excellence.

“We most definitely feel we should be 5-1,” the coach said, “and not a .500 team at this point.”

For the B-Corsairs to reach the first level Geary described, Simmons must play a starring role.

“Execution down the stretch,” were the words Simmons used to highlight the team’s major area of focus in the coming weeks.

“We just can’t stay at .500. We’ve got to pick it up, and hopefully go way above .500 to get to the top of the league,” he concluded with a smile.