LAS VEGAS — On September 28, 2013, about 60 professional basketball hopefuls — each of whom paid a $150 registration fee — took the court at Concordia University to try out for the Austin Toros, the NBA Development League affiliate of the San Antonio Spurs.
On Monday night at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center, one of those players took home MVP honors in the NBA Summer League championship game.
Jonathon Simmons, a 25-year-old from Houston, capped his coming-out party under the bright lights of Las Vegas with 23 more points to lead San Antonio to victory. After two years with the Spurs’ minor-league affiliate — renamed the Austin Spurs this past season — Simmons confirmed that he has signed with San Antonio on a two-year deal in which the first year is guaranteed.
He found out about the Call-Up while on the bus following his last game with the Brooklyn Nets at the Orlando Summer League.
“Right when we were about to pull of, my agent called me and was like, ‘Jon … you are now an NBA player,'” Simmons retold the story.
“‘The Spurs just gave you a two-year [deal].’
“I’m like, ‘Whaaaaat?’ That’s all I could say. I was like, ‘Hold on, whaaaaat?'”
Upon arriving in Vegas, the high-flying, 6-foot-6 guard turned the 11-day, 67-game event into his personal showcase, rising for emphatic dunks, swatting away fastbreak layup attempts and slashing into the paint with a vicious crossover and first step combo.
It was nothing the coaching staff in Austin and management in San Antonio hadn’t seen over the past two years.
“It’s really why we’re in this, to help kids get better and hopefully fulfill a dream,” said Austin Spurs head coach Ken McDonald, who assisted Becky Hammon on the Summer League coaching staff.
Simmons caught eyes at that open tryout in Austin, earned a week-long workout session with the Toros and eventually made the opening night roster. He averaged 9.6 points and 1.4 assists in his first season — numbers that shot up to 15.2 points and 3.7 assists this past season as he drastically improved his perimeter skills. Alongside teammate Kyle Anderson, he carried the summer Spurs to a 6-1 record, posting 17.0 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists.
“We’ve had our eye on him for a long time,” said Hammon, who’s entering her second season as an assistant in San Antonio. “We love his athleticism, we love his personality; he’s a guy that just brings a good energy. We’re not surprised at what he’s doing now — not surprised at all.”
His rise from obscurity dates back even further. Prior to his NBA D-League tryout, Simmons played at two junior colleges in Texas, Paris Junior College and Midland College, the University of Houston and for the Sugar Land Legends of the American Basketball League.
“Our staff has been pulling for the kid. We got emotional when we told him [about the contract],” said McDonald. “He’s just one of those kids that you root for.”