There were other sports Bianca Simmons could have chosen. Or perhaps not.
“My two older brothers played basketball in high school and college. We'd go at it all the time,” said Simmons, who is putting together a sensational senior season at the University of Massachusetts Lowell.
“It was very competitive. It helped me out a lot. My father [Reginald] played too.”
Basketball was the family pastime. Any other sport was incidental.
The countless hours playing against her brothers, George and Courtney, getting pushed around a bit, yet learning all the time, started the process that has led to this: the 5-foot-6 point guard is tearing up the Northeast-10 Conference, averaging a Division 2-high 28 points per game for the 16-5 River Hawks. Hillary Southworth, a junior guard at West Liberty University in Chicago, is next, averaging 23.1.
“I think she’s the best Division 2 point guard in the country,” said Sarah Behn, in her second season as head coach at UMass Lowell.
“I'm not alone in that opinion. People who have seen this conference and been outside of it think so too. Bianca’s very hard to guard. She has a quick first step. She can pull up and elevate for a jump shot on a dime. She can go coast to coast. She can rebound.”
Her 5.8 assists and 7.5 rebounds per game fill out the impressive stat line.
Simmons has been named the NE-10’s Player of the Week nine times this season alone.
It’s not like she sneaked up on anyone. Simmons averaged 18 points last season. She wasn’t happy. “I struggled. I felt I could have done more,” she said.
Simmons lost 20 pounds during the offseason. “I told myself last summer I had to work harder. I worked out with Courtney,’’ now 24. “I’m happy with the weight I'm at now.”
“She's just exploded this year,” said Behn.
“We’ve seen a very good player become an awesome player. She’s leading us to victory because a lot of our games have been close.”
A year ago, the River Hawks were 7-14 through 21 games.
On Sunday afternoon, she poured in 32 points to power the River Hawks to a 79-62 win over Southern New Hampshire. UMass Lowell trailed at the half, 36-33.
“She’s so talented, watching her play is fun,” said forward Lindsey Doucette, a freshman from Hopkinton. “She’s a great leader, a great person. She always has something positive to say.”
Simmons played at Mercy High in Middletown, Conn., where she was a two-time all-state selection.
“Bianca was the best passer I ever coached. She had two or three highlight passes a game,” said Mercy coach Tim Kohs.
Watching the slimmed-down Simmons play at the college level, “it amazes me how she got back in shape,” said Kohns.
“She’s not especially quick, but no one can guard her.”
Simmons has a “head bob” fake that clears space between her and a defender, according to Kohs. She doesn’t shy away from clutch moments. “She has a flair for the dramatic shot, the big pass,” said Kohs. “Nothing she does surprises me.”
Behn, the former Boston College All-American who previously coached at NE-10 rival Franklin Pierce, as well as Framingham State, feels Simmons can play at the next level. “We think she has a shot at the WNBA. There are only four or five Division 2 players who have done it. Most have been point guards.”
Simmons will work out at the WNBA Combine during the Divison 1 women’s final four, and also at a combine under the watchful eyes of European coaches and scouts.
“She’s just hungry for a basketball job” after college, said Behn, who played in Luxembourg one year and led the Central Europe League, averaging 35 points per game.
“I’d love to play overseas,” said Simmons. “I'll play anywhere. I hope everything falls in place.”
Simmons chose UMass Lowell after her junior year of high school, after receiving letters from a number of schools, including Georgia Tech, Drexel, and Florida State.
“I felt comfortable here,” she said. “UMass Lowell was a good choice for me.”
Behn had a legendary career at Foxborough High and knows the state’s female basketball landscape well. She has a number of Bay State players, including Ashley Rivera, a senior guard from Lowell; the Wilson sisters, Brianna and Whitney, senior forwards from Lowell; Danielle DePierro, a junior guard from Tewskbury, and Demetria Bell, a sophomore wing from Braintree via Thayer Academy.
But Behn has no qualms about crossing state borders, not when it can bring someone like Bianca Simmons on campus.
“I’m very happy where I'm at,” she said.