VANCOUVER — As Parker Simson prepared for a most unique moment in UBC sports history this weekend, and in of all places his hometown of Kelowna, he was professing an appreciation for one of sport’s oldest cliches.
“I have been learning what the older pros say about being ready and when you get the chance, to make the most of it,” Simson said early Thursday afternoon as he left Thunderbirds’ basketball practice and prepared to board a bus as No. 6 UBC (13-3) headed north to face the UBC Okanagan Heat (2-14) Friday (8 p.m.) and Saturday (7 p.m.) as part of the the second-to-final weekend of the Canada West regular season.
It’s a game in which he has been included on the dress list for the first time in his UBC career, and to have it happen in Kelowna where he helped lead the Owls to the 2016 B.C. AAAA title along with current ‘Birds teammates Mason Bourcier and Grant Shephard is special enough.
Yet there is something especially significant aside from the fact that Simson’s U Sports basketball career will officially hit the books at some point during the Friday-Saturday set.
If he sees the floor this weekend, Simson will become only the second UBC Thunderbirds’ athlete in the past 57 years to play both football and basketball in the same academic year.
“From the outside looking in some people might think it’s an easy thing to do,” begins UBC head basketball coach Kevin Hanson who has worked hand-in-hand with Blake Nill, the school’s football coach regarding Simson. “But when you’re in the middle of football season, going five hours a day from meetings to video to practices…
“Parker had the month of December to get ready (for basketball) and if his learning curve was high, he’s been fast. He’s started to impress more and more. You can see how athletically gifted this guy is.”
SIMSON’S HIDDEN PREDECESSOR
Originally, when Simson declared for UBC in early 2016 while still in his final year of high school, it was believed that the late Wayne Osborne was the last athlete to pull the basketball-football trick on the Point Grey campus when he treaded on both grid and hardwood for the ‘Birds through the 1960-61 season.
It was later brought to the attention of UBC sports information director Wilson Wong that North Vancouver’s Jeff Sharma, a former Handsworth Royal who played both receiver and guard, had since also managed the feat, almost 40 years later, during the 1997-98 season.
The reason it escaped the initial notice of Wong and the school’s bird-dog historian Fred Hume?
Sharma, who had played two years of basketball under former head coach Bruce Enns (1994-95, 96-97) began his UBC football career the following the season as part of the school’s 1997 Vanier Cup winning team.
Sharma figured his basketball career was over, but later that school year, to his surprise, new men’s basketball coach Rich Chambers approached Sharma and asked him if he would like to re-join the program. He did, and saw action over the second half of that season.
Thus Sharma completed the tricky two-sport double by playing both sports in the 1997-98 season.
MAKING GOOD ON A LOFTY GOAL
Patience has been the key for Simson, who suffered through a foot injury late in his senior year of high school serious enough for him to redshirt his entire 2016-17 year at UBC.
This past fall, he made his debut with the football team, and his presence in the defensive secondary, which included a touchdown, was very noticeable.
However not being able to gel with his basketball teammates until December meant that Simson would have to hit the ground running and fit in quickly.
On a team which is hopeful of making a run to the national title, Simson is reaping the benefits of patience and self-belief.
“It’s pretty sweet,” he said. “I have been ready the whole year and I’ve learned to be like a professional. I have not focused on playing time and the things I can’t control. But I have focused on work, improving my confidence and just being ready.”
Based on his presence in practice, Hanson couldn’t ignore what Simson could potentially bring.
“With his tenacity on the defensive side of the ball, he brings a toughness,” said Hanson. “You can see the safety, the DB in him. He is ready and he can anticipate. We’re not sure on the offensive end if he is a point guard or a wing, but court awareness is special with him. Defensively (in practice) he’s been one of our better guys.”
Ask Simson what he’s worked hardest to try to claim since joining the basketball team and it’s been an intangible.
“Chemistry has been the biggest thing,” he said. “My skills came back pretty quickly but the hardest part was missing all those months. You don’t know where shots are going to come from and at this level, you need to know what is unique about every guy on your team.
“Now, I feel like things are going really well, and practicing (with the second unit) we’re right there with the starters.”
And so after all the waiting, through a tough redshirt injury season and with both the football and basketball programs, Parker Simson is on the verge of completing a goal he was not afraid to announce when he was still in high school.
“I think it’s pretty cool,” he said of returning home with a chance to make the dream a reality. “I remember going to games (at UBC Okanagan) when I was a kid, and now I’ll be out there. They say there’s going to be a great atmosphere. I can’t wait to get there.”
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