This story appeared in S.A. Austin edition of the December ESPN RISE Magazine.
Meighan Simmons proves that childhood dreams really do come true.
When the Steele (Cibolo, Texas) senior was just 8 years old, she had already narrowed down her college choices to two of the best: UConn and Tennessee. Now fast forward to this past summer. Through July, the final four for the 5-foot-8 combo guard and nation's No. 24 recruit in the ESPNU HoopGurlz 100 looked like this: Cal, LSU, Maryland and Rutgers. Tennessee and UConn remained mum. They had sent letters, but no scholarship offers.
Then came August.
As Simmons and her mother, Karolyn, boarded a flight to Los Angeles for an all-star showcase, she was all but sold on LSU. Simmons had been hand-picked by adidas for a 12-member all-star team, the Candace Parker Aces, that would be traveling to Tokyo, Japan, to play a series of games. The team's spokesperson happened to be Simmons' favorite WNBA star, Candace Parker, who graduated from the University of Tennessee.
Before jetting off to Tokyo, the Aces were in Southern California for an exhibition game at Hope International University. That's when word spread that Parker was in attendance. Nerves may have gotten the better of Simmons, because she started off slow.
"I was like, 'Wow Meighan, don't you realize Candace is in this gym? Play at your best,'" Karolyn says. "Then, Meighan began to play at an amazing level. I was shocked. I had to call her dad."
Parker made sure to find Simmons after the game, and the high schooler was left speechless by the meeting. According to Karolyn, Parker said that Simmons had such uncanny range and precision with her shot that she had to tell Lady Vols head coach Pat Summit.
Parker recounts her other observations about Simmons in an e-mail: "I liked the way she made those around her better. She was a triple threat; she could catch and shoot, put the ball on the floor and pull up, and she could go all the way to the rack. She stood out because she was skilled and the hardest worker on the court. She kind of reminds me of (Minnesota Lynx guard) Candice Wiggins with her high energy or (Washington Mystics guard) Lindsey Harding."
Simmons didn't have much time to soak in the mesmerizing encounter. The day after the game, she was off to Tokyo with her Aces squad for eight days. Shortly after she returned, Summit called Simmons and offered her a scholarship. A few days later, after some praying and lots of thinking, Simmons made up her mind and committed to Tennessee.
Parker wasn't the first high-profile athlete to approach Simmons. When she was about 10 and playing for the Fort Sam Houston Cougars AAU team, Simmons matched up in a game against NFL Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett's daughter. Dorsett was so impressed with Simmons that after the game he came down to where she was sitting and said, "I have never seen a young lady at your age play basketball the way that you do."
Simmons can thank her family's athletic genes for getting her going. Her parents, Karolyn and Wayne, and her six siblings (four brothers and two sisters) are all athletes. Karolyn's brother, Reggie Pinkney, is a former NFL defensive back who has one son, Aaron Curry, who's an NFL linebacker for the Seattle Seahawks and another son, Patrick Pinkney, who's a quarterback at East Carolina University. Simmons, who was born in Fort Bragg, N.C., credits her two older brothers, J.R. and Erin, for fueling her hoops obsession after the family moved to San Antonio in 1997.
"They tried to knock me down," Simmons says. "I took that as a challenge and I was like, 'One day, I'm going to show them that I can actually play this game just as good as they do.' Ever since then, they're just like, 'Okay, yeah, you kind of got it.'"
In 2006, when Simmons came to Steele, which was in its first year of varsity girls' basketball competition, she had never played any level of school hoops -- only rec and AAU. Head coach Kari Wallace remembers Simmons' first day of practice and saying to her assistants, "Wow, we've got something special here."
In three seasons, Simmons has led the Knights to a 93-19 overall record, with back-to-back district titles and Final Four appearances in the past two years. The two-time reigning San Antonio Express-News Player of the Year is 342 points shy of breaking the city's girls' and boys' career points record -- 2,759, set by University of Texas alum Clarissa Davis-Wrightsil, who happens to be Simmons' TeamXpress AAU coach.
Wallace says it's been a "blessing" to coach Simmons.
"I've never seen a kid at the high school level on the caliber of Meighan Simmons," Wallace says. "Her speed is unbelievable and she's an incredible shooter. She's very well known in our district to be a step or two behind the three-point line. As she has matured, her control has also grown."
To prepare for this season, Wallace is working with Simmons on her ball-handling because she anticipates Simmons playing the 1 more in college. Having previously lived on a military base because Wayne was an Army medic, Simmons has not only developed a tenacious work ethic, but also a way of speaking with authority.
"My goal is to just be the best of the best," she says. Then she pauses, as if she's aiming closer with calculated strategy. "Actually, to be the best -- point blank and simple."
When Simmons was a kid, her father had a custom UConn jersey made for her, but not a Tennessee one. He couldn't find the Volunteer logo when he was stationed in Korea at the time.
Simmons will soon have an official jersey made for her, a dream come true. It will be a white -- and orange -- Christmas.