Houston native Jonathon Simmons hits jackpot, signs with Orlando

If you like movies where the good, hard-working guy overcomes numerous obstacles and wins in the end, you’ll be elated if the Jonathon Simmons movie ever hits the big screen.

Simmons, a 6-foot-6 Smiley High School grad, former Houston Cougar and now former San Antonio Spurs backup guard, recently signed a three-year deal with the Orlando Magic reported to be valued at $20 million.

Some might say $20 million spread out over three years is chump change in today’s NBA, but for Simmons, 27, it’s the culmination of a lifetime of hard work that begged to be capitalized upon.

The road to success wasn’t always easy for Simmons. He was the district co-MVP as a senior at Smiley and an all-conference selection at Paris Junior College in Paris, Texas. Simmons transferred to Midland College for his sophomore season (2009-10), averaging 13 points and 4 rebounds. He earned all-conference and all-region honors for his efforts.

Simmons transferred to the University of Houston for his junior season (2011-12) and his basketball ascent continued. As a Cougar, Simmons averaged 14.7 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game. Just as pundits were waiting to see what Simmons would do for an encore at Houston, he declared he was foregoing his senior year and entered the NBA draft.

Kris Gardner of the Houston Roundball Review and a UH Cougar alum recalled Simmons’ time as a Cougar.

“During his one season at UH, his athleticism and raw basketball skills were obvious,” Gardner said. “He was more athlete than basketball player. He wasn’t a great threat from the outside, and at times, he was too passive during the games, despite being one of the most talented Coogs during that 2011-2012 season.

“I was surprised he declared for the NBA draft after his junior season, but he did it for family reasons. He wasn’t ready for the NBA at that time.”

Simmons went undrafted and his basketball odyssey intensified. He spent a year in the now defunct American Basketball League. Simmons then paid $150 to participate in a tryout to join the San Antonio Spurs development team. He impressed the coaches, made the team and spent two years in the D league before making the Spurs roster this season.

“I think and reflect back on all it took to get to this point,” Simmons said. “I’m just continuing to stay humble about it because I want to keep getting better, and being the new guy, I just want to try to get the respect from the other guys. This was about turning negatives into positives for me, and just appreciating the experience.”

In 78 regular-season games with the Spurs last season, Simmons averaged 6.2 points, 2.1 rebounds and 1.6 assists in 17.8 minutes per game. It was his play in the playoffs against his hometown team that showed he had arrived as an NBA player.

In the Spurs vs. Rockets Western Conference semi-final series, Simmons filled in admirably for an injured Kawhi Leonard. In his first career postseason start he calmly dropped in 18 points and 4 assists to eliminate the Rockets. He went on to average 15.3 points, 2.8 rebounds and 3.3 assists in 27.8 minutes per game in the Western Conference against Golden State.

Recently after contract talks broke down between the Spurs and Simmons, he bolted to the Orlando Magic and the team could not be happier.

“Jonathon is an elite wing defender that will provide toughness and athleticism to our team,” Magic President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman said in a release. “His tremendous work ethic has helped him continually grow as a player and we are very excited to add him to the Magic.’’

A reflective Simmons knows he has overcome some huge odds to get to this point in his career.

“I’m part of the one percent in my area,” Simmons said. “We were in a rough part of town. I’m the only one who’s played at this high of a level. I never thought this would be possible, wearing this [NBA] jersey. But it’s possible.”