Fourth-grader Dakota Simms is training for an NBA payday though he has never actually played organized basketball. At 9, he showed off his skills as a mystery shooter during a break at an Atlanta Hawks game that earned him network sports appearances and national headlines. Takvim.com, a Turkish publication, dubbed Dakota “Mini [Michael] Jordan.”
What’s all the fuss about? Dakota’s coaches, who volunteer their time because they believe he has natural talent, say he’s made 289,000 three-point shots in three years and averages 50 every five minutes during practice.
Terence “Coach T” and Yoshi Simms of Norcross say their son, who turned 10 in February, has received offers from talent scouts looking to make him a star, but they don’t want him to move too fast, too soon. They say a California casting agent asked them to relocate to be on call for acting and modeling auditions. An Atlanta sports agent has called, as have coaches with the Amateur Athletic Union basketball league.
“We were not just totally ready to pick up and move to California,” said Dakota’s mother. But she is considering signing with a local talent agent for showbiz gigs.
Dakota’s progress is being documented by his coaches on Twitter, dakotasimms.com and thetallstreet journal.com, though he rarely reads the buzz.
“People from all different countries have spoken to me about him,” his dad said. “The producer for the Ellen DeGeneres Show asked us if Dakota has done any acting. Photographers have asked to follow him when he starts playing league basketball.”
The Simmses set a routine: School, homework, down time, snack , basketball practice for two and half hours, dinner by 9. (Dakota says he practices better when his stomach isn’t full, so dinner waits.) Church on Sundays.
If his parents allowed it Dakota would train longer. He once turned down a family ski trip.
“I just like practicing that much. I want to be in the NBA,” said Dakota, who is just under 5 feet tall. “If we were going to Six Flags, then I would skip [practice].”
So, how good is he?
For a CNN segment, Dakota shot hoops with Dominique Wilkins, one of the NBA’s top scorers. Street ball legend “Hot Sauce” (Philip Champion) and other basketball greats have watched practices at the Ravinia Club.
Off court, Dakota plays video games, throws a football with neighbors and spends time with his sister Taylor, 11. But his steady “playmates” are some of the area’s top-scoring high school players who drop by the gym to see if the kid can live up to the hype.
“Playing with him makes me better,” said John Burke, a 17-year-old North Springs basketball player who averages 30 points a game. “I know grown men who can’t do half of the things he does.”
Dakota glides across the court, lunging and squatting as he dodges imaginary 6-foot defensive players, dribbling an NBA regulation basketball blind behind his back, then through his scrawny legs. He ends his free-style floor show in a flying leap with toes pointed. Swish.
“I think he has wonderful form for somebody so young,” Wilkins said. “To shoot from the distance he shoots from takes a lot of strength.”
A daily fitness regimen of 200 push-ups and 100 sit-ups builds Dakota’s upper body strength. In the spring, his dad adds 2-mile runs to the program.
“All Kota has to do is maintain an A-B average and make 2,000 three-point shots per week and he gets $20,’’ said his dad, who is 6-foot-1 and played street ball in Brooklyn. Dakota’s strength coach Cheyenne Throckmorton, standing 6-foot-11, blocks the boy’s way to the basket so he can practice his offensive game. His motivational coach, Michael Trantow, helps him power through his dad’s challenges.
“I need to see you blaze up this court and get to the top of the key in three seconds,” Simms told his son as the boy raced against high school athletes. “If you are tired, go to the store and buy some new legs.”
Trantow and Throckmorton volunteer their time because they believe Dakota has star potential.
“I don’t usually work with kids his age, but he is exceptional,” Throckmorton said. “He talks and acts like a man. He picks up on things really well. He is here two and three hours every single day. He takes basketball [very] seriously.”
“You learn a lot from being around him,” Trantow said. “He is just an inspiration.’’
Life off the court
At Norcross Elementary, Dakota is an easy-going kid with a perfect fade haircut, good grades and a winning smile.
“He is not a boastful child. He is well-liked by his peers and respectful,” said principal Dora Hill. “If I didn’t see that video on the Internet, I would not have known that he was doing something spectacular.”
While Dakota is eligible for gifted classes, he’s hesitant. “It’s a lot of work you have to do,” he said. “I have to practice.”
His parents are considering it, though, concerned that Dakota may go straight from high school to the pros, bypassing college.
“When you turn 16, you can play professional ball in the European league,” his dad said. “If he was offered $1.5 million to play, as a parent, I would let that happen.”
His mother Yoshi, publisher of Atlanta Girl magazine, agrees. “I don’t think college is necessary if he has the opportunity to go pro. It is a wonderful opportunity at that age to get right into playing basketball professionally like he wants to do.”
Dakota says he prefers to “go from high school to the NBA” if the rules change to allow it. In 2006, the NBA banned prep-to-pro drafting. To be eligible for the draft, an athlete must at least be 19 and a year out of high school.
When Dakota turns 11, his dad will finally let him play with older kids in the Amateur Athletic Union, the league that boasts alumni like LeBron James. Dakota didn’t want to play in the league until he was able to use an NBA-sized ball. Young players use smaller balls.
“Dakota has never played with a youth ball,” Simms explained. “When you put him with kids his age, it upsets some parents because he is so much better. I want him to feel comfortable with being great at something and not feel like [he’s done] something bad.”
Is it too much?
Like Dakota, Wilkins, Atlanta Hawks’ Basketball Vice President was passionate about basketball as a kid, often playing until midnight on community courts. The Hall of Famer didn’t play organized basketball until high school.
“We played basketball year round. We went to camp,” said Wilkins, who has a 14-year-old playing basketball at Trickum Middle School in Lilburn. “Personal trainers…kids don’t need that. I think when you throw too much at them, you will lose them because they will lose the love of the game.”
Wilkins said parents should be careful about pushing their kids to excel because it could cause stress. Wilkins, drafted during his junior year in college, said the focus should be on education. “I don’t even talk to my son about the NBA. It is way too early. You make a mistake when you try to put your kids in a situation. If they fail, what next?”
Bruce Kreutzer who trains NBA players and students in the Mark Price Basketball program at Suwanee Sports Academy, notes the odds.
“People have a better chance of being a brain surgeon than they do an NBA player,” he said.
Still, Dakota’s parents say they will do what they can to support his dreams, and right now, they are all about the NBA.
“Every kid says they want to be in the NBA, be president or a lawyer,” his dad said. “At what point do you say to a kid, ‘What if you can’t?’ It is almost like killing a dream before it has a possibility of coming true.”
By the numbers
Number of 3-pointers made in a week: 2,800
Favorite NBA players: Kobe, Lebron and Steve Nash.
Favorite NBA teams: Cavaliers, Lakers and Suns.
Favorite video game: NBA 2K10
I think girls are: cool
School is: very important
Plan B: movie star