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March Madness legend: Bobby Simmons

March 20, 2013|By Jack M Silverstein | For RedEye

In spring 1998, Chicago unveiled its answer to the Fab Five, when basketball prep stars Quentin Richardson of Young, Bobby Simmons of Simeon and Lance Williams of Julian announced their intention to come to DePaul. The triple signing was billed as a return to the glory days of DePaul basketball, and while they never reached the heights of Mark Aguirre and Terry Cummings, Richardson, Simmons and Williams brought a buzz to the city and relevance to the program.

Now 32, Simmons met with RedEye at his South Loop clothing store Succezz (1329 S. Michigan Ave.) to talk about his Blue Demons and what he's doing now.

Bobby Simmons: Who came up with the idea [to all go to DePaul] was Lance. We played high school right down the street, down Vincennes Ave. He went to Julian, I went to Simeon. And he was like "Man, what if we played together?" He was the first to commit. So it was like, okay, well, I'm gonna put my foot forward.

Quentin was the last one to make his decision. [Laughs.] Lance called me, and he was like, "Man, what if we can get Q to stay?" I said, "Well, let's try and see what he says." So we always called back and forth, hung out on the weekends. We were the main focus as far as Chicago basketball, and it was a tradition of change.

The buzz [on campus] was amazing. It was almost like getting drafted to the NBA. That's what it seemed like. Fans were amazing. Every restaurant we want to, we got noticed. The media coverage. Nationally televised games. And then not only that, you're playing the best teams in the nation. And we being young kids didn't really understand the fact that we're being held accountable for a lot of people. It's almost like taking a whole entire city on our back. People are like, "You guys have to win. You guys have made the change to Chicago" as far as the tradition of basketball.

I watched DePaul basketball as a kid. Terry Cummings is from my neighborhood. So you watch the guys who you see and pretty much implement your game after those guys, because they are professional athletes. If you can compete and play and learn from them, then it's like "OK, I do have a chance." And I think everybody understood that we had a chance.

Our first nationally televised game was against the [New Mexico] Lobos. A pretty hostile environment. Mile high. The altitude. We lost at the end of the game. Lamont Long got a steal and went full court for a layup.

It was our first collegiate game. Nationally televised. ESPN. I think that was the turning point. "We're here now. We're not kids. We're young men. And not only that, but we have a lot of people who depend on us to win, as well as the kids behind us, the generations behind us." Everybody wanted to come to DePaul. A lot of people started coming to the games, started sitting in on practices. Media was everywhere.

The 1999 season was a success, with the Blue Demons reaching the NIT. They defeated Northwestern in the first round and lost to eventual champ California in the second round. With a postseason experience in the bag, the Blue Demons had one goal in mind: the NCAA tournament.

Freshman year, I don't think we had the complete team we really needed. Coming to the second year, we added [guard] Paul [McPherson], we added [center] Steven [Hunter]. [Guard] Kerry Hartfield was a senior. That was a key point as far as maturing as a basketball player and a young man, and actually knowing what it takes to get to the next level. Because once you go to the NCAA, it's a new season. You win or you go home.

Did you guys feel like you were better than a 9 seed? You had so much talent …

I thought we were. We had one of the toughest schedules that anybody else had. But not winning the conference tournament, losing to St. Louis, pretty much killed us. We were in the conference tournament, [Cincinnati All-American] Kenyon Martin goes down [with a broken leg], and it's like, "Well, we have to win." They were the top seed, and expected to win, and once he goes down, and the way we started playing against St. Louis, the game showed that we really weren't focused on playing the game.

What were you focused on?

[Thinking] I don't know. It was just like everybody was kind of relaxed, thinking we were supposed to win. If you go into a game thinking you're supposed to win, you might let your guard down and not play to the ability of what you really should play to.

Now in your first round, were you guys looking ahead to Duke?

Not necessarily.

Were you taking Kansas seriously?

You had to take Kansas seriously, because they were still a good team and nationally ranked regardless of if they're 8 or 9.

So tell me about that first round game against Kansas. What stands out?

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