April 21, 2011

Sims at home away from home

Kevin McCarthy

photo of Damario Sims

We spill some coffee on our clothes or get stuck in traffic and such constitutes having a bad day. Well, relativity abides because while we are reacting to trivial nuisances, others are thankful for another day of life or another opportunity to be in the presence of loved ones. The mundane is welcomed if not treasured. Take the experience of former McClymonds High and current Chico State backcourter Damario Sims.

There's definitely straight outta Compton. But straight outta Oakland isn't exactly a stroll down Candy Cane Lane. To not have walked in his shoes makes his experience simply unimaginable.

As Sims puts it, "I've lost a number of love ones who have been murdered or put in jail -- friends cutting school, selling drugs and using guns. It's been tough."

Yet he is a third-year sophomore for the Wildcats, coming off a just-completed season in which he averaged 11.4 points and 3 rebounds a game while finishing second in assists with 56. He will be Chico Coach Greg Clink's top returning scorer come 2011-2012.

So how did he manage the transition from West Oakland to Butte County?

Initially with eyes and ears wide open and his sixth sense on red alert.

But more importantly, there was another event, a tragedy, that factored into Sims' persona -- the death of his mother.

"In ninth grade, I was cut from the [McClymonds] JV team and I also lost my mother," Sims explained. "It robbed me of my innocence and forced me to become a man quickly. It was me and my three sisters and not the best of conditions but only death can take us apart."

Although at times it may not have seemed like much, or enough, a focus on basketball proved to be a positive he needed. According to Sims, "I didn't really care too much about my grades but kept my grades up in order to play ball. The basketball court is the one place I feel no pressure. All my troubles and worries are checked in the locker room -- it's just me my 14 brothers and five coaches."

He also vividly recalls a truth passed on to him by his mother when she was in the hospital -- "she told me don't take away my smile, it's a gift from God."

In a manner, he also views the death of his mother as something that had a positive element. "My mom's passing was a blessing in disguise because with her gone I had no one to get me out of trouble or depend on."

It was up to him to set his life straight -- his father was gone.

Despite initially being denied from participating in high school basketball, Sims persevered and came back out. With impeccable timing, the period became a golden era for Mack basketball.

McClymonds won the California state championship in 2007-2008. "We were embarrassed the year before [falling to Fairfax 53-29] but winning state definitely wasn't a surprise -- we had Damon Powell, Frank Otis, Will Cherry and Quincy Hill." The Warriors squad went 32-0 and took down Dominguez Hills High 73-54 in the finale.

Then it was college crunch time.

"I had multiple JCs and some D-2 schools recruiting me," Sims said. "However the moment I talked to Coach Clink and [Assistant] Coach [Gus] Argenal, I knew this was the correct move to make. Coach Clink promised me two things and they were I will get the chance to play basketball with a group of high character guys and I will graduate from college."

But about that transition...

"Going from Oakland to Chico was a culture shock, quite an adjustment," Sims detailed. "First off, it was predominately white" but as he noted, "One time I was in a big crowd in downtown Chico and I realized I didn't have to keep look over my shoulder" trying to spot trouble before it spotted him.

He also found another set of kin.

"My coaches and teammates embraced me and took me under their wing, anything I needed I knew they had my back. Now, we're like a family and I don't feel pressured to go back to Oakland to feel connected."

Here's Coach Clink on his underclassman: "Damario is a special person. I love coaching him as much as anyone I have ever coached. His passion and intensity are infectious and I feel so lucky that he chose Chico State. He is not only a great player, but a great person. Damario has been through so much in his life and had to deal with things that 21-year-olds should not have had to dealt with at this point in his life. But all the adversity he has faced has only made him stronger."

The first person in his family to go to college, Sims also has a new academic approach. "Now I approach every class knowing I'm going to end that semester with over a 'B'."

Initially, he wanted to become a parole officer because he felt he had something to offer, kids to relate to and certainly problems to work on solving. "What I saw and witnessed first hand makes me want to help. There's a difference between having the experience or reading books about situations." As he put it, the latter would be like "having a basketball coach who never played."

But now he feels such a role isn't enough. "I want to go to grad school and, if I can do that here, I can reach kids and bring them in from Oakland and also do some coaching."

About his home away from home, Sims is unequivocal: "now I wouldn't choose Duke or UCLA if I had the chance to."

His guiding mantra is "life is too short to ever be mad for a second."

Being sagacious and 21-years-old is generally an oxymoron but not for Damario Sims.