In August, St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute announced the hiring of the school’s first African-American head coach. Professional basketball player and Buffalo 716er, Jake Simmons, was brought on board to coach the Marauder’s freshman basketball team.
A Rochester native, Simmons has stayed in the community most of his life. He attended Buffalo State, where he broke a 42-year old record, scoring 2,079 points in his four year career.
It’s been an interesting journey for the young man, who also works with youth in Western New York communities. Simmons feels that it’s the next step in his evolution though. “My journey to coaching was something that grew over time – the transition from being a player to a coach isn't a easy one,” Simmons admitted. “A lot of reality has to settle in your brain.”
“Its true that what they say, [it’s] the next best way to stay around the game…through coaching. Once I accepted my reality as a player and you can’t play forever, coaching just fit with my life and I actually enjoy it,” Simmons continued.
His first game as head coach was played on December 1. “I was a little nervous at first, because I didn't know how my guys were going to play,” he said. “I expected some mistakes and turnovers but I didn't expect them to play as well as they played. They looked really good.”
Simmons and his St. Joe’s freshmen defeated Lockport by 20 points. He said the feeling was unimaginable. As a native of the Western New York area, he is proud of his community and recognizes the importance of the position he’s stepped into. “I never thought I would be at the forefront of something of this magnitude. I always wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself and I think there is no better feeling than to be the first at anything.”
His winning attitude permeates everything he touches. “To me it just means I have higher success to fail ratio,” he said. “I like situations like this because it gives me no other option but to keep being successful.”
Simmons says he was surprised that St. Joe’s reached out to him. “Joes approached me. My friend Mike Whopper asked me if I wanted to coach during one summer league game and he is the JV coach for Joes.”
“Throughout the summer, we had a minor conversation about it.” After this conversation, Simmons understood how serious the thought had become. “That's when I began to let reality sink in and I thought about the possibilities and opportunities. I figured if I made the most of this one then they [the possibilities] can be endless. So I truly thank St. Joe’s.”
Simmons is nothing short of a pioneer. His role as St. Joe’s head coach is certainly historic, but he is also a longstanding member of Buffalo’s first professional basketball team since the Buffalo Braves. “716ers is an organization that deserves a lot of respect and support. That organization loves the city of Buffalo and understands the importance of basketball.”
“Being a part of the 716ers is forever for me,” Simmons stated. “My relationship with the owner Tawan Slaughter is one that makes everything possible because it is more than basketball and her and I have similar backgrounds. She is like family to me.”
Behind the gravitas, Simmons remains humble. He’s quick to mention those who came before him. “With all due respect to the late great Randy Smith, I am happy to be walking in his shadow because he was such an amazing man. I want to bring that feeling back to Buffalo and the impact that he had on the city.”
When Simmon’s isn’t teaching, playing, or coaching, he’s encouraging others to pursue their dreams. His #NowMe program is motivating young Western New Yorkers.
Simmons gets excited when he talks about #NowMe’s impact. “#NowMe simply means to make the most of every opportunity! When you receive the chance to prove yourself, show the world why you are great! From one opportunity its up to you to create more.”
He advises young men and women to change their perspective. “Instead of saying ‘Why me?’ and blaming others for failures or mishaps in your life, accept the things you cannot change because complaining doesn't help. The things you can change? You change them so that they benefit you as a human being and leader for your community and even go as far as to spark change in the world.”
Truly, a better person could not have been chosen to lead the Marauder’s freshmen onto the floor. His path hasn’t been the smoothest, but he has always maintained a positive outlook and has persevered through any challenge he’s faced. He is now a pioneering professional basketball player, a coach making history, a motivational leader, and an inspiration to everyone in his community.