Kansas State forward Dean Wade (32) contests a shot by Texas forward Jericho Sims (20) during a NCAA college basketball game in Austin, Texas, on Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Men's Basketball

Quiet Texas freshman Jericho Sims speaking loud enough with his play

Sometimes even his teammates aren't sure what Sims is thinking, but the UT freshman is finding a late-season groove

Posted March 5th, 2018

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Please don’t get the wrong impression of Jericho Sims and his quiet demeanor. He means no disrespect. Sometimes in a say-anything world, silence is golden.

The 6-9 Texas freshman was hard to pin down in recruiting, prompting some confusion. Does he like Texas? Does he like another school? What does he think? Who knows?

Now at UT, the Minnesota native is peeking out of his shell in interviews. He’s busting out of it on the court, too.

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Texas forward Jericho Sims (20) score over West Virginia Mountaineers in the second half of the game. Texas wins against West Virginia 87-79 in the NCAA Game on Saturday, March 3, 2018. RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

“Sometimes it’s hard to know what exactly is going on in that mind of his,” Texas coach Shaka Smart said, “and he definitely has a beautiful mind.”

Playing behind standout freshman Mo Bamba this season, Sims had the chance to watch and learn. He averaged 25 points and 10 rebounds per game last season at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School. But Smart said the competition there would “be like playing against five of you guys (reporters). OK, throw me in there and four of you guys.”

Bamba suffered a sprained toe injury against Oklahoma on Feb. 17 and hasn’t been the same since. Thus, Sims has seen his playing time expand greatly in the last three games, and it’s paying off.

He had 11 points against Oklahoma State and 12 at Kansas. Even the supposedly impartial Big 12 official observer in Lawrence leaned over and remarked, “Damn, he’s gonna be good.”

On Saturday, Sims had a career-high 17 points and eight rebounds in Texas’ 87-79 win over No. 20 West Virginia. Two days later, he was named the Big 12 newcomer of the week.

“Getting more comfortable,” Sims said. “Mo being out, I’m just trying to be more aggressive offensive and defensively.”

Does he feel more confident? “I believe so,” Sims said.

Kerwin Roach II then interjected, “Yeah, hands down.”

Prediction: Sims will become a chatterbox before it’s all said and done at UT.

“He’s really, really smart, but he also does not talk a lot,” Smart said. “So sometimes, you don’t necessarily know what he’s thinking. And sometimes, he’s not sure, especially when he’s in uncharted territory for him.”

Smart said that Sims knew he had to contribute, especially with Bamba sidelined. “Even before this recent stretch when Mo was out is when people need him — people demonstrate, ‘Hey, we need you, man’ — he really responds to that,” the coach said.

Bamba injury update: Smart said been the most optimistic person on campus about the status of Bamba’s sprained toe injury. However, it’s not looking good for Wednesday’s game against Iowa State at the Big 12 tournament.

“I’m not sure if he’s going be able to play on Wednesday,” Smart said. “His status is still day-to-day.”

Bamba was the only Longhorn to be on the first- or second-team All-Big 12 units unveiled Sunday by the league office. He leads the league in rebounds (10.6) and ranks second nationally in blocks per game (3.8).

Staying focused: Texas has not performed well after big wins. UT beat No. 8 Texas Tech at home and then lost by 35 at West Virginia. Smart’s club beat No. 12 Oklahoma at home and then lost at Kansas State.

It’s thought that Saturday’s win over WVU helped Texas (18-13, 8-10 Big 12) secure an at-large spot in the NCAA Tournament. But that could be in jeopardy if the Horns get blown out by the Cyclones, the No. 10 seed and last-place finisher in the league standings.

“I’ll be 100-percent honest with you, I’m never fully comfortable with where those guys are after, I guess in their minds, what would be a big win,” Smart said. “It’s a constant battle for humility.

“We had better understand by the time that ball goes up in the air Wednesday night, we’re playing against a hungry team that was within a possession of beating us earlier this year. And a team that in some ways has nothing to lose.”

Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com.

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