After the Texas Longhorns were knocked out of the NCAA Tournament last March thanks to an overtime defeat at the hands of the Nevada Wolf Pack, head coach Shaka Smart and forward Jericho Sims sat down to create a list of areas where Sims wanted to improve and where the coaches wanted Sims to improve.
One area was becoming more assertive, as Sims emerged in the absence of Mo Bamba late last season to turn in impressive performances against Oklahoma State, Kansas, and West Virginia.
Against the Cowboys, Smart called a play for Sims in a critical moment late in the game and Sims converted.
During the next two games, Sims combined for 29 points on 12-of-16 shooting and 16 rebounds. earning Big 12 Player of the Week honors as a result.
When the Horns needed Sims, he stepped up, but the next step for the conscientious young player is to realize that his team needs him to be assertive and aggressive every game. That’s something Smart continually tells Sims.
And if that happens — if Sims is consistently assertive and consistently aggressive — the sky is the limit.
“His long-term future is really, really bright and I see him in terms of what he’s doing right now — he’s showing glimpses of what he’s going to be able to do more consistently down the road,” Smart said in March.
Seven months later, the future is now as Sims prepares to enter his sophomore season carrying more muscle on his 6’9 frame and without his signature curls.
“Wait ‘til you see Jericho,” Smart said after the summer. “Physically, he’s really changed — he came in with a really good body, but it’s been transformed. You gotta see his before and after shot. He’s gotten way stronger, he’s gained a bunch of muscle, he’s as athletic as he’s ever been.
Sims has also spent a full offseason under the tutelage of Texas assistant Darrin Horn, one of the more accomplished coaches of big men in the country.
A primary point of emphasis for Horn and Smart is Sims getting his stronger body into plays, especially on the offensive glass or just on offense in general in terms of creating better and more consistent position in the paint.
“Over the course of the summer, he was very efficient in our live play, in our workouts shooting over 80 percent from the field because he was taking the right shots, and taking high-percentage shots.”
Sims has also been working on ironing out some aspects of his low-post game. Last season, he liked to make moves to his right shoulder and then shoot right handed up into the bodies of defenders — not the ideal approach. So he’s trying to translate a left-handed jump hook that is consistent in practice to game situations, while becoming more adept using his more natural right hand.
Speaking of that natural right hand, Smart described Sims as “somewhat ambidextrous” days before the sophomore debuted a new right-handed approach from the free-throw line at the Texas Tip-Off. Sims missed both attempts, but he did show better back spin on the ball, and given that he seems more comfortable with the right hand, it was also odd that he shot free throws with his left hand last season.
And did so poorly, hitting only 52.6 percent from the line. Since Sims will likely challenge seniors Dylan Osetkowski and Kerwin Roach II for the team lead in free-throw attempts this season, the team would receive a big boost if Sims could raise his percentage into the high 50s or low 60s.
A credible mid-range jump shot would also really open up the game for Sims off the bounce since opponents can largely ignore him on the perimeter right now.
Smart took a deep breath after I asked him about that mid-range shot.
“You know, he’s still inconsistent shooting the ball,” Smart replied. “He’s better in drills than when he gets in a game. You know, sometimes when you have five defenders around you on the floor, just spatially it changes some things, but he’s a guy in time I think can be a good shooter. He’s not all the way there yet.”
So it sounds like Sims has the skill level to eventually develop that side of his game, but unless the development in other areas happens so slowly that he sticks around until his senior season, which seems highly unlikely, Sims will probably become a good shooter after he reaches the NBA.
And showing off a jump shot in games isn’t even the primary focus for the staff — Smart said that the focus is on Sims getting the best shots he can get and that means shooting the ball around the basket, something that Sims and freshman Jaxson Hayes do really well.
Though Sims is still a work in progress, there’s plenty of cause for optimism because of his natural athleticism, newly-developed strength, and desire to do the right things. After all, the sky is the limit and it’s clear that Sims can touch the sky.