Chicago State coach Tracy Dildy got some good news in the middle of June.
His leading scorer, soon-to-be junior Fred Sims, pulled his name out of the NBA draft and decided to return to the South Side. For a coach that was already convinced his team would rise up the WAC standings, this was a big boost.
Over the past two seasons, the Cougars have gone a combined 1-27 in league play, but have a number of talented newcomers joining the program in 2017-18. Now, players like redshirt freshman Travon Bell and redshirt senior Jelani Pruitt will play alongside Sims, who, in a tie with UTRGV’s Nick Dixon, is the WAC’s leading returning scorer.
The junior guard was kind enough to spend some time discussing the draft process, why he chose CSU and what he expects this coming season.
On what stands out most after an all-conference year:
[As a sophomore, Sims was named to the all-league second team after averaging 18.8 points and 4.6 rebounds in 34.5 minutes per game. This was significant uptick in production in an expanded role from his freshman season.]
“Mostly like you said, the things I accomplished. But now it’s team thing with me, I’m all about winning. My main focus is us winning and making sure we beat the odds because right now everyone has us on the backburner. I don’t need any of that this year, I just want to make sure everyone is on board so we can win some games.”
On what the draft process was like and why he decided to give it a shot:
“It was definitely a long, fun experience. I learned a lot, talked to a lot of people. All it did was help me get ready for this year. Going into my junior year obviously I learned a lot from my sophomore year. It just made me more mature, knowing how to handle situations. It was definitely a great experience. Coach was just saying to me that he felt I had a great season individually. And was saying while you’re still young, you should definitely go test the waters and see how it goes. I was like, ‘man Coach, if that’s how you feel, let’s make it happen.’”
On Dildy’s reaction when he told him he’d be back:
[Dildy was instrumental in landing future pro’s Quentin Richardson and Bobby Simmons as an assistant at DePaul in the late 1990’s/early 2000’s.]
“I stopped by his office here at the school and he honestly didn’t want me to come back. He felt I should’ve stayed because he just knows what it’s like sending guys to the NBA. He thought it was the right time, but he said don’t worry about it, we’re going to make sure we win some games this year and I dominate one more year. He wasn’t surprised because I was telling him the whole time what I was going to do. We talked literally every day. Every day. I was asking him for pointers and what he thought I should do. He just kept telling me to follow my heart, so that’s why I chose to come back to school.”
On the parts of his game that he’s been focusing on this summer:
[Sims has a career average of 1.2 assists per game over 62 games at CSU.]
“Defense. Defense and getting my team more involved. I know I can score the ball and a lot of people, I’m pretty sure, know at this point I can score the ball. I want to have a complete game now, and show everyone I can do a little bit of everything on the court. So I’ve been working on my defense and passing, and just being a better leader. Talking, being more vocal.”
On what it’s like playing in Chicago, and why he chose Chicago State:
[Sims is a Chicago native that went to North Lawndale College Prep on the city’s West Side. After a playing career at UIC, Dildy has served as an assistant at UIC and DePaul.]
“It’s amazing. My family is right here, all my friends I grew up with can show up to the games. I love it. My family gets to see me play up close and personal, it’s a great feeling. Dildy is definitely a legend, especially here in Chicago. I heard so many great things about him, I thought, ‘man, let me go really find out what all the hype is about.’ When I got here everything I was hearing was true. I love it.”
On what the Cougars need to do to improve in 2017-18:
[Along with Sims, the Cougars have a number of key players returning that averaged at least 15.0 minutes per game last season, including Glen Burns, Delundre Dixon, Patrick Szpir and Deionte Simmons.]
“We have to come together. Now that I’ve been playing with these guys for a few years I feel that chemistry is there. When I first came here my freshman and sophomore years it was a mixed up thing with all new players. But now we have that chemistry, and I’m a leader and have experience on the court, I feel it’ll all come together.”
On whether the university’s budgetary issues affected him:
[In February 2016, CSU sent layoff notices to 900 employees as a precautionary step amid budgetary issues facing the university. Naturally, this brought the athletic department’s viability into question.]
“Dildy just told us to focus on basketball and everything else would work its way out. Mainly focus on school, then basketball, and that’s what he we did and we never let that bother us or anything.”
On his mindset as the team’s main offensive threat entering games against top-flight competition:
[Last season, Sims had big games against Wisconsin (26 points), Northwestern (22 points), New Mexico State (26 points) and Grand Canyon (21 points, twice).]
“My whole mindset is that I just want to win. I’m going to do whatever it takes to win, if it’s me passing or defending that game, that’s all I’m focused on. I’m not concerned about points. It’s just basketball. Whatever I have to for my team to win, that’s what I’m going to do.”