Liberty senior forward Jordan Sims is an anomaly, in temperament as well as talent.
“The biggest challenge in coaching Jordan has not been to ground him,” Liberty coach Mark Wood said. “It’s been to make him understand how much God-given ability he has.”
In an era where basketball players are often viewed as commodities at a very young age and wander the landscape looking for the best high school and club teams to meet their individual needs, Sims:
• Didn’t take to the game until he was in the eighth grade, and wasn’t a natural. “I sucked bad starting out,” he said.
• Was completely unaware of his basketball gifts. The father of teammate and friend Dean Hodges had to convince him to join a club team after his freshman year.
• Never wavered in his commitment to Liberty as a school and a basketball program. Sims was willing to stay at Liberty through its growing pains. After his family moved to El Mirage two years ago, Sims obtained a variance to remain at Liberty, rather than going to a more established program in the Dysart district.
“This was where my friends would be,” Sims said. “I’m really close with my teammates.”
That bond has remained, even as Sims’ play began to stand out. He averaged 18.2 points and 6.6 rebounds per game as a junior, leading the Lions to an 11-14 record in their first year as a varsity squad.
His play during the season and over the summer sparked interest from college recruiters. In November, he signed with the University of Texas-San Antonio and will attend on a full-ride scholarship.
His coach thinks the Roadrunners, a member of the little-known Southland Conference, got a steal. Wood said Sims, who just turned 17 in August, is still growing and learning how to be more assertive — and hasn’t even started to tap into his full potential.
“He’ll be that kind in the (NCAA Tournament) that all the major universities are going, 'How did we miss on that kid,’” he said. “You missed on him because you didn’t see his ceiling. He’s not even grown into his body. When you look into that, you realize it’s crazy. A year ago he couldn’t two-hand dunk, now he’s reverse two-handing it in games on alley-oops.”
It’s been a dizzying ride for a kid who got into basketball mostly because of his older brother and his friends. And it keeps getting better — Sims is averaging a team-high 20.1 points, 7.3 rebounds and 3.4 steals.
Liberty is 13-10 and 3-3 in Skyline Region play heading into tonight’s game at region-leading Goodyear Desert Edge. The Lions play in a difficult region but are in the No. 11 spot in the 4A-II power point rankings, a solid bet for a playoff spot.
“I didn’t think it was going to be like this at all,” Sims said. “I just thought I was going to play in high school.”
He said he wasn’t aware of his unique gifts until his sophomore year, and still didn’t believe he would play in college until colleges started recruiting him. Wood, who coached four years at Cactus before starting Liberty’s program, knew quickly that Liberty was starting off with a rare talent.
“He was pretty raw coming in as a freshman, and I remember we were practicing at Parkridge Elementary in the cafetorium because our gym wasn’t built,” Wood said. “We were scrimmaging and he did a move and I looked at my other coaches and I go, 'that kid is special. He doesn’t know it yet.’ It was just a matter of making him believe it.”
And so Wood’s unique challenge began — trying to get his best player to be more assertive with the ball and to make his voice heard by teammates.
While it was tough for the soft-spoken Sims to take charge, he has over time.
“They look to me on the court now,” Sims said. “I’ve gotten a lot better at that.”
Sims will never be a fiery speaker, but he’s become the face of Liberty basketball in his own way. He enjoys the school and being part of its first graduating class. He hangs out with his teammates.
More than anything, Wood said, Sims genuinely cares about every boys basketball player. He makes time to counsel the underclassmen and help them with their games. He attends every freshman and junior varsity games, leading chants for the next generation of Lions.
“They will allow him to play his role because of who he is outside of basketball,” Wood said. “It’s tough when you have a horse, because you’ve got to worry about jealousy seeping in. We made it a point to make sure that everyone knows that regardless of your God-given talent, everyone is important. He embraces that and makes sure that every kid, from freshman to varsity knows that they mean something to him.”
Sims is hoping to cap his legacy by leading Liberty to its first playoff berth. The Lions have two games remaining after tonight, and will be favored against Verrado and Cactus.
Once the season ends, Sims will begin to focus on the next phase of his basketball career. Thus far, he’s known mostly for a feathery jumper from three-point range. Sims said he’s working on taking the ball to the hole with a purpose and getting stronger.
He’s excited about the opportunities at Texas-San Antonio, Wood and his coaches on the Arizona Magic club helped him get in contact with the school. Much like Liberty, Sims said he felt comfortable with all aspects of UTSA.
“It was a good match. I like the coaches there, the players and the campus,” Sims said.
Wood said Texas-San Antonio was the only school to realize the gem they’re getting, on and off the court.
His mother, Tangie, also showed him how to practice the generosity she has preached, bringing Jordan’s teammate, senior guard Herb Dew, into their house when Dew didn’t have a place to stay.
“The foundation has been laid right. He’s humble, he’s hungry. He’s a loving, giving kid with a huge heart,” Wood said. “I had a couple of college coaches ask me if he’s got the dog in him ... but they look at flashy things. Texas San-Antonio looked at the whole package and fell in love with him. And he is going to shine.”