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Hoop Dreams

Featured Photo from Hoop Dreams

Longwood native Anfernee Simons is a top NBA draft pick.

There was no way Tameka and Charles Simons could predict whether or not their son would become a basketball star when he was born in Longwood on June 8, 1999. But both of them were Orlando Magic basketball fans, and they wanted their son to have a unique name, so they named him Anfernee – after the Magic’s top player at the time, Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway.

Now 19, Anfernee Simons has more than lived up to his famous name. After graduating from Orlando’s Edgewater High School, the 6-foot-4 guard played one post-graduate year at IMG Academy in Bradenton (the country’s premier sports boarding school), where he averaged 22.4 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 3.1 assists a game. The National Basketball League’s Portland Trail Blazers were impressed enough with Anfernee’s potential to make him their number-one selection (24th overall) in this summer’s NBA draft.

Anfernee, who attended Altamonte Elementary and Rock Lake Middle School, is the first American player to be selected in the NBA draft directly out of high school since the league implemented age restrictions in 2005. If he lives up to expectations, Anfernee may one day surpass his namesake, who was a four-time NBA All-Star during his six seasons (1993-1999) with the Magic.

“It does seem like he was born to play basketball,” says mom Tameka, who – along with her husband – played basketball at Lyman High School in the mid-1990s. “It kind of feels like that now. I guess everything happens for a reason.”

Anfernee says it was a “dream come true” when his name was called on June 21 during the 2018 NBA Draft at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. Instead of being in attendance, Anfernee chose to watch the selection process from a Lake Mary hotel, where close to 170 family members joined him at a draft party.

“It was great,” Anfernee says. “Everybody came and enjoyed the moment with us. It’s really been kind of a whirlwind. I just feel so blessed to be in this position.”

Tameka says Anfernee was still in a stroller when she took him to local recreation centers to watch his dad play, and he was mesmerized by the sport. When he was a toddler, Anfernee showed early signs of advanced hand-eye coordination while playing with his beginner basketball hoop, and by the time he was five years old, he was impressing spectators in the local Winning Ways basketball league at Lake Brantley High School.

“Other parents would come up to us and say, ‘This kid’s going to play in the NBA,’ but we just brushed it off,” Tameka says. “We’d say, ‘He’s only five years old. Calm down!’ But it actually happened.”

After eighth grade, the Simons family moved to Orlando, and Anfernee would go on to star at Edgewater High, where he averaged 23.8 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 4.2 assists during his senior year. Anfernee decided to play one year at IMG Academy to better prepare himself for college and was planning to play at the University of Louisville the following year.

“Then people started telling me I was going to be a first-round pick,” Anfernee says, “so it was a no-brainer for me.”

After seeing how hard Anfernee worked during his post-grad year in Bradenton, Brian Nash, director of basketball at IMG Academy, says he’s confident that Anfernee will be successful in Portland.

“Most players usually do one thing really, really well, but Anfernee is a triple threat,” Brian says. “He can pass really well, he shoots really well, and he handles the ball really well. And he can score from multiple places – from long range, mid-range, and around the rim – which makes him pretty dangerous. He also has strong character and a great family. I think once his physical development catches up with his talent, he’s going to have a really good career.”

For now, Anfernee is trying his best to prove that he is worthy of Portland’s top draft choice. He is currently playing for the Trail Blazers’ summer-league team.

“This year I just want to keep getting better, honestly, and learn how to be a professional basketball player,” Anfernee says. “I want to play as hard as I can and do the best that I can to help my team win. As for the future, I hope to be a really good basketball player, with all the accolades, All-Star [game] appearances, and a few NBA championships.”

And his family will be right there to support him.

“None of us expected this,” Tameka says. “It just goes to show if you work really hard at something and put your mind to it, you can accomplish great things. Anfernee believed in himself and believed in his dream, and once he decided that this is what he wanted to do, he was really focused. His dad and I are so proud of him. We’re over the moon.”

 

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