In The End, No GF Needed
Posted: December 14, 2012
HARRISONBURG – For parts of the last three years, Eastern Mennonite University basketball coach Kirby Dean said he’s been scouring EMU’s campus, searching for a girlfriend for guard R.J. Sims.
It’s not that Sims necessarily has a hard time meeting females. Dean was just hoping that, as he put it, “If I could get him [Sims] in love, then he wouldn’t be as homesick.”
“Every cute girl on campus I’ve talked to, I see if they can try to talk to him, and see if they can kindle a relationship,” Dean said.
OK, so Dean is exaggerating a bit. But the issue Dean feared was Sims’ relationship with his family, and particularly his mom. Sims has missed his mother so much at times during his career that Dean worried the quiet guard would go home to suburban Washington, say, for a holiday break, and never return.
Fortunately for EMU, that hasn’t happened.
Sims, a 6-foot-4 185-pound junior, is averaging 13.8 points (second on the Royals), 3.9 rebounds (third) and 2.5 steals (first) per game. They’re not eye-popping statistics, but Sims is developing into the role Dean envisioned when he recruited Sims from Fort Washington, Md.: “That by the time he’s a junior, we’re going to be building the program around him,” Dean said.
“That’s what’s happened.”
Dean’s search for Sims’ next girlfriend, though, has been futile.
“I tell Kirby that I’m my son’s girlfriend [and] I’m his mom,” Lasebia Brice, Sims’ mother, said with a laugh.
And she’s more than that. She’s also often an additional coach for her son, and she’s one of the most passionate Royals fans you’ll ever come across.
Her in-game fandom is one thing – she sits in the front row at center court at almost every home contest, hollering for virtually all 40 minutes while wearing a home-made Royals’ T-shirt with Sims’ name and No. 2 on the back. But what separates Brice is what she does off the floor.
After making the roughly 2½-hour drive home from EMU on Saturday following the team’s 86-72 loss to Randolph-Macon, Brice stayed up until 2 a.m. going over Royals statistics from the game, “looking at everything, trying to figure out where we went wrong,” she said.
On game days, Brice will call her 20-year-old son in the morning with some motivation. “Are you ready?” she might ask him. Or she’ll challenge him to reach a certain point-total.
“Sometimes,” Sims says, “I think she’s more into it than I am.”
Judging solely by their personalities, you’d hardly think the two were related.
While his mother boisterously yells from the stands, Sims – who Dean calls “a very good student” – is one of EMU’s quietest players. While Dean said Sims is a passionate player, his face is nearly always expressionless whether he’s playing hoops or not. He almost looks disinterested.
“He’s always been that way: no emotion,” Brice said. “I saw him make one smile, I think, a couple times during the game [Saturday], and it’s funny because the people who sit around me that know that I’m his mom, they say, ‘Oh, I saw a smile! I saw a smile!’”
Dean recalled the “nightmare” of going on recruiting trips to Sims’ high-school games, because he could hardly get Sims to speak.
“You knew after the game that if you could get two words out of him, that was going to be a monumental thing,” Dean said. “It was basically, watch him play, and then talk to him for 15 minutes where, for 14 minutes and 50 seconds, I was doing the talking.”
Sims, Dean said, prefers to let his play do the talking for him – and it has, especially this year. But it hasn’t always been easy, particularly living so far from home.
For most of his childhood, Sims grew up with Brice as his only parent. His father died roughly 18 years ago, Brice said. With four children to raise – Sims has an older and a younger brother, and a younger sister – Brice said the family got by financially on her salary, some aid from the military (her late husband was in the service) and help from close relatives.
All the while, Brice lived through Sims’ athletic career at every step. Sims recalled one occasion when he was playing pee-wee football at age 5: “I was running for a touchdown, she was running right beside me,” he said.
So when his mother wasn’t around him all the time in college, Sims said, it was tough on him. He went home about every other weekend.
“Sometimes I’m down here, and I’m so used to being around my family – she gives me inspiration,” Sims said. “Sometimes I’ll just be down, and I’ll miss my family.”
Brice doesn’t run up and down the sidelines at Yoder Arena, but she still makes her presence quite apparent. The Royals hear her vibrant voice during the game, and then again when they watch film.
“We hear her – she makes sure of that,” senior Andrew Thorne said. “It’s good, though. It hasn’t been a problem or nothing. It’s something that we really like.”
It’s something Sims and Dean say they like, too. In fact, all the Royals’ players – even the ones who don’t play – give Brice a hug before games, a token of their appreciation for her investment in their team.
“I always tell them, I say, ‘Well, I’m going to calm it down just a little bit,’” she said of her in-game demeanor. “They’re like, ‘No! We like it! We love it!’”
For a while, Dean’s major concern remained that Sims wouldn’t turn up at practice after going home – to the point where, Dean joked, “I’ve threatened him” about what could happen if Sims didn’t return to school.
“And, I told his mom that, [too],” Dean said. “I said, ‘Ms. Brice, I love you, but if you don’t put that boy in the car and make him come back, I’m going to hunt down both of you, because he’s going to be a part of this program.”
Sims has – and all parties are pleased with it.
“If you see him down and out, it’s because he wants to come home,” Brice said. “But overall, he loves his team, too.”