Worth The Work: Dymond Simon Fights Past Injuries
By Michelle Smith
This is what Dymond Simon worked for. The days spent in rehab, the hours on a bike and in the weight room, shooting alone when everyone else had already left the gym, trying to get her game back in shape.
This was it.
Simon and her Arizona State women's basketball teammates are back in the NCAA Tournament.
The Sun Devils, making their 11th overall tournament appearance, open NCAA play Saturday as a No. 7 seed, facing tenth-seeded Temple in Salt Lake City. Arizona State has not lost a first-round NCAA game since 2001.
Two years ago, Simon, the Sun Devils starting point guard, watched from the bench as ASU went to the Elite Eight. She was just weeks removed from the second major knee injury of her career.
Simon said that she played the role of "coach on the bench" in the 2009 Tournament. At the same time, she nursed her broken knee and her broken heart.
Last year, as Simon redshirted to get herself healthy for one more season, the Sun Devils struggled with inexperience and inconsistency, and finished with the program's lowest win total in six years and they didn't make the NCAA field.
"It was heartbreaking, but the past is past," Simon said. "And we are so excited to be playing."
Perhaps no one more than Simon, who hasn't played in an NCAA tournament game since 2008.
"This is what all my preparation was for. I wanted to get strong enough to get back here," Simon said. "It's such a great opportunity to do something big."
The fifth-year senior from Phoenix is a heart-and-soul player for the Sun Devils. Her career has been marred and slowed by injuries. She tore an ACL in 2007. In her 2009 injury, she tore every lateral ligament in her knee in half.
When she's healthy, Simon is one of the top guards in the Pac-10, a strong defender, a reliable scorer and an absolute leader.
But even in her final season, she hasn't been able to escape physical maladies.
She had a foot injury that hampered her early in the season. She sustained a concussion that cost her a pair of games in the heat of the Pac-10 race.
All coach Charli Turner Thorne wants most for Simon and fellow senior Becca Tobin is a finish that they can be proud of.
"I just hope so much for both of them that they can play at a high level," Turner Thorne said. "I've been so proud of this team this season. We are a very inexperienced team.
"Dymond's been through so much that I just want her to be able to relax and let her instincts take over. I just want her to shine."
And that includes NCAA experience. Tobin has played in two tournaments. Simon has played in just one after her two knee injuries.
"This is my senior year and I do still feel like I have something to prove," Simon said.
Simon has proved much already in her final collegiate season. She leads ASU in scoring at 13.5 points a game. She is first on the team in minutes played, three point goals and assists. She is the school's single-season leader in free-throw percentage and she was named to the All-Pac-10 first team this season.
And Simon helped to lead her team to a late-season rally that has taken them to this place.
Arizona State was 6-6 at one point in the conference season, facing the real possibility that they would be out of the NCAA picture for a second straight season. But the Sun Devils won six of their final eight conference games to finish with a hold on the No. 3 spot in the conference and earned back their spot in the bracket.
Simon was instrumental to that run, including a stellar weekend in Los Angeles against UCLA and USC. ASU split that weekend, but it was a huge confidence boost, one that has carried over to this important weekend.
Simon is very aware she is down to her final games in a Sun Devil uniform.
"I'm excited to go out there and have the team go out and playing knowing that it could possibly be our last game," Simon said. "I think there's a bit of nerves, but I think it's more of a nervous excitement.
"I want to leave here knowing I made my contribution to the ASU program."