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Boys Basketball Player of the Year: Gainesville's Blake Sims
Gainesville High's Blake Sims.

Losing was never an option. No, losing is never an option.

When you’re as competitive in nature as Gainesville High junior Blake Sims, winning is the only thing that matters, and throughout his first full season playing basketball for the Red Elephants he proved it.

Countless times during the regular season Sims came up with the big play or the big basket to help his team win, but he saved his best performances for when it mattered most.

During Gainesville’s run to the Class AAA state semifinals he led the team in scoring every game, averaging nearly 18 points, four assists and four steals per game.

For his efforts during the regular season and the playoffs, Sims is the 2009 Times Boys Basketball Player of the Year. But even that accolade does not heal the wounds of ending not one, but two seasons on a losing note.

“My strategy for football and basketball was to win games and play my heart out for the seniors,” said Sims, who quarterbacked the Red Elephants to the quarterfinals. “That’s one thing I didn’t want to do, I didn’t want to let my seniors down. Ending the season like that I felt I let them down.”

Just three days removed from the semifinals loss to Westover, Sims still couldn’t shake the feeling of walking off the court without a chance to play for a state title.

“I think about what I could have done better,” he said. “Could I have done this? Could I have done that? But I know that night when we left the gym, everybody was saying that Gainesville’s boys left it all out of the court.”

Especially Sims, who scored 14 of his team-high 17 points in the fourth quarter against Westover.

But scoring was never high on Sims’ priority list, winning was. He averaged 12 points per game during the regular season, which was six points less than team-leader George Manomano. He never looked to score, unless he felt it was necessary.

“I just made sure everybody ate before I ate,” Sims said. “I’d score whenever I felt it was my time for me to score or when I felt I needed to score.”

That unselfish attitude led to big years from Nick Johnson, Juwon Jeffries, A.J. Johnson and Manomano.

“I think playing quarterback helps because he knows that he’s gotta have some one to catch for him, he’s gotta have someone to block for him,” Gainesville coach Todd Cottrell said. “Blake’s definitely a big part of our team. He’s a great floor leader, fearless competitor and he can make plays that not too many guys can. With him on the floor we had a real nice guard combination.”

With Sims running the point and Manomano playing the wing, the Red Elephants had two perimeter players willing — and able — to take the game over at any time. And despite basketball being his second love, the competitive nature that lies within Sims allows him to thrive at even the most pressure-packed moments.

“My pops told me all my life to never do anything half-handed,” Sims said. “If you’re gonna do something, do it.

“If it’s close, I’ll look at the clock and say it’s time to go,” he added. “When I think it’s time for me to go, it’s time for me to go.”

In a little more than a year it will be time for Sims to go to college. Already a highly-recruited football player with scholarship offers from colleges like Georgia, West Virginia, Arkansas and Tennessee, Sims could very well end up on the court for one of those universities.

“I would not be surprised if he’s as highly recruited in basketball as he is in football,” Cottrell said. “He’s 6-1, athletic, quick, fast, can handle the ball, can defend, and he’s never really played point guard until this year.

“When we played this summer a lot of coaches were keeping an eye on him,” he added. “Make no mistake, he’s a very good basketball player. He’s not just a great athlete.”

Whether or not he plays basketball at the next level is yet to be determined, but if Sims had the choice he’d definitely lace up the sneakers once football season finished.

“If a college came to me and said I could play both sports I would,” he said.

Colleges will have to wait, since Sims still has one more year left at Gainesville to build on his already impressive high school resume that includes a region title in football and basketball and deep playoff runs in both sports, as well.

He has his goals for next year — winning region and state titles in both sports — but right now he’s focused on another aspect of his future: his grades.

“I’m just trying to pick up my academics so I can have something to fall back on,” Sims said. “If I’m not playing sports or hanging out with my girl, I’m in my room studying.”

And when he’s out playing sports, it’s more than likely that he’s probably winning.

“I hate losing,” Sims said. “Everyone hates losing girlfriends, but I hate losing games. You could take any thing from me, but that’s one thing I hate.”

He hates it so much it hardly ever happens.

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