Men’s Basketball: Four-star forward Casey Simmons is the next big believer in Northwestern

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Daily file photo by Joshua Hoffman

Northwestern’s coaches watch from the sideline. Saturday, they received a commitment from four-star forward Casey Simmons.

Charlie Goldsmith, Reporter

Casey Simmons lived in Chicago for the first six years of his life. Growing up, he remembers hearing his father talk about Northwestern basketball.

His father was less than enthusiastic about the basketball program.

Simmons, the newest member of NU basketball’s 2021 recruiting class, was told that, historically, the Wildcats never really showed much basketball tradition. Or competed in the Big Ten.

NU has come a long way since then. But for Simmons, the perception that any of what he heard was true went away for good when he first spoke with coach Chris Collins.

“Just by the tone of his voice, I could tell Northwestern was for real,” Simmons told The Daily. “Coach Collins made it obvious that it’s different now. With the coaching staff here, we want to win, we want to go to the tournament and make strides.”

Simmons believed so strongly in that message that he committed to play for the Cats on Saturday night, becoming the third member of their 2021 recruiting class. After Simmons announced his top-seven list June 23, which included schools like Texas, Pittsburgh and Miami, he didn’t take long to make up his mind.

Simmons called Collins on June 25, and for a while, they discussed how they were staying busy during quarantine. Suddenly, Simmons said he cut Collins off and told him he was committing to play for NU.

In response, Collins shouted so loudly that he surprised both Simmons and Collins’ wife, who was sitting nearby the head coach.

“It was really loud,” Simmons said. “Like really loud. It startled me. I didn’t think he’d react like that.”

Collins likely knew what Simmons’ commitment meant for the program. Simmons, a four-star forward from Massachusetts ranked No. 91 in the country by ESPN and No. 102 by 247 Sports, is the second-highest rated recruit in program history.

Now that Simmons chose the Cats, Collins has a forward he can build around.

Vin Pastore, Simmons’ AAU coach, said Simmons will bring a different skillset to NU’s roster.

“When I say he’s athletic, he’s in the upper echelon of the athletic people,” Pastore said. “We would allow him to go create, run a set that gets him the ball on the wing and lets him create off the dribble. That’s where he’s at his best, and he’s pretty unguardable in that scenario.”

But Simmons made a name for himself on the other side of the floor. Pastore almost always had Simmons guard the opposing team’s best player, whether it was a point guard or a power forward. Even though Simmons is six-foot-six, Pastore said he was one of the best shot blockers and rebounders on his team, and that he gained a national reputation for his high-level defense.

As Simmons started to prove himself as a prospect, he said the Cats’ coaches made him feel like a bigger priority than the other schools he looked at.

NU assistant coach Emanuel Dildy was scheduled to visit Simmons in Massachusetts during the winter, right after Simmons suffered an injury that forced him to miss a few games. Even though Simmons wouldn’t be playing, Dildy visited him anyway and watched Simmons’ high school team play.

“That showed a lot of interest and trust,” Simmons said. “I’ve never had any coach come up here just to talk to me.”

After that, he was regularly in touch with the Cats’ coaching staff. The highlight, Simmons said, was a Zoom visit in May where Collins explained his determination to compete in the Big Ten.

“I really recognized his competitiveness,” Simmons said. “Especially coming off this last year and a losing season, we sensed his competitiveness right away. And that shows that this can be a winning program in the future.”

Simmons made his commitment official June 27, joining four-star guard Julian Roper and three-star guard Brooks Barnhizer in NU’s 2021 recruiting class.

Simmons ranks ahead of Vic Law, Robbie Beran and Miller Kopp on 247 Sports’ rankings for all-time NU basketball commits, and Simmons said he’s excited to try to lead the Cats back to the NCAA Tournament.

“I don’t see it as pressure as much, but I see this as a huge opportunity to really thrive,” Simmons said. “Being the underdog is always so much more rewarding, and I really think with the guys coming in with me that we can keep going with what they’ve already started over there.”

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Twitter: @CharlieG__

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