Archive for Thursday, March 28, 2002

Purple Passion

Former Eudoran experienced Final Four firsthand as a Wildcat

March 28, 2002

Native Eudoran and former Bonner Springs basketball coach Jeff Simons became a key component in the triangle offense long before Michael Jordan and Shaquille O'Neal earned championship rings with Tex Winter's innovation.

Simons, 59, started as a forward for Winter (the Los Angeles Lakers assistant coach and former Kansas State head coach) in 1963 and 1964, and he played an important role on the Wildcats' 1964 Final Four team.

"He (Winter) is one of my favorite people in the world," Simons said. "We ran the triangle offense to perfection, and that is hard to beat."

Simons grew up a Kansas Jayhawks fan in Eudora. His wife, LaVerna (Burkhardt) Simons was also a Eudora High School graduate. His sister, Gloria Bagby, still lives in Eudora, and two other sisters live in the area.

He averaged 27.3 points per game for Eudora High School as a senior in 1960. The 6-foot 5-inch standout also led the Cards to an 18-4 record before losing to Haskell High School in Lawrence that year.

Simons experienced both positives and setbacks as an athlete at Eudora High School. He lost his middle finger in a wood shop accident as a sophomore, which he thinks may have affected his deft shooting touch. He also grew from 5-10 to 6-4 between his sophomore and junior years.

"We were very close knit, and sports were very important," Simons said. "I listened to all (the KU) games on WIBW with Max Falkenstein and sold popcorn when Wilt (Chamberlain) was there."

Simons and Rock Chalk Jayhawk, were never meant to be. After the success of Chamberlain, Kansas Coach Dick Harp began recruiting on a national level and overlooked Simons in nearby Eudora.

Simons then chose Kansas State over Ottawa University, where his older brother, the late Don Simons, became a Little All-American at wide receiver for the Braves.

During his career at Kansas State, Simons and Willie Murrell and company defeated the Jayhawks five out of eight times. A two-year starter, Simons recalled the electric atmosphere inside Ahearn Field House.

"It was a great basketball atmosphere," Simons said. "Beating (KU) more times we were a little bit stronger."

Simons also enjoyed the Sunflower Doubleheaders, which would pit two out-of-state teams against KU and K-State in Lawrence one night before the 'Cats and the 'Hawks would swap opponents in Manhattan the following night.

Simons experienced personal and athletic highlights March 20, 1964.

While the Wildcats were preparing for their game against UCLA in the Final Four at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, Simons' wife LaVerna gave birth to the first of the couple's four children, Dee Ann, in Manhattan.

Simons was informed about the birth of his child through a K-State assistant coach at the team hotel. Communication with the ballplayers was limited during the Final Four out of fear gamblers would call them.

"I was at the hotel and they wouldn't let us take phone calls," Simons said. "I was kind of relieved because the week before we were in the Midwest Regional in Wichita."

That year the 12th ranked 'Cats defeated Creighton and a Texas Western team with former Arkansas Coach Nolan Richardson, before toppling third-ranked Wichita State to advance to the Final Four.

Simons didn't miss a beat in the Wildcats 90-84 loss to eventual champion UCLA, as he scored 24 points in the semifinal game. The Bruins, led by Gale Goodrich and Walt Hazard, gave John Wooden his first NCAA Championship that season.

It was Winters' coaching style that inspired Simons to embark on an 18-year coaching career after he graduated from K-State. Simons coached at Bonner Springs High School, Kansas City Kansas Community College, Johnson County Community College and John Brown College before becoming an associate pastor at the Grace Evangelical Church in Memphis, where he has been since 1983.

"It seemed like that part of my life was over, and I felt like God was leading me to do something different," Simons said. " It is very fulfilling, and I am very much pleased with what I do in the ministry."

Simons directs the men's ministry at the Grace Evangelical Church and has traveled overseas for global missions. He has conducted basketball clinics in Brazil, Costa Rica, Korea, Guatemala, Taiwan and Hong Kong during his missionary trips.

In Memphis, Simons has coordinated basketball clinics for native son Anfernee "Penny" Hardaway, worked as a play-by-play announcer for Memphis women's basketball and other local sports. He has also served as a chaplain for sports teams in the Memphis area.

Simons still follows the current Wildcats basketball team when he has the time. He attended K-State's losses at Memphis and at Ole Miss. With the Jayhawks in the Final Four this spring, Simons will put the rivalry aside and root for the Jayhawks to win the championship.

"They (K-State) are having a hard time recruiting, and they have not done well since (Lon) Kruger," Simons said. "When K-State is not playing KU, I root for KU, and I like Roy Williams."

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