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Gainesville's D'Marcus Simonds driven by critics, aiming for basketball state title in senior year
Red Elephants' senior brings fire to court behind self-inspired motivation
DMarcus Simonds 0001
Gainesville High senior D'Marcus Simonds hopes to lead Red Elephants to Class AAAAA state championship this season. - photo by Erin O. Smith

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D’Marcus Simonds plays two games when he suits up for Gainesville High.

The first is obvious, where he jukes defenders out of their shoes, slices through the lane and makes jumpers that look pre-destined to kiss the inside of the net.

The second is more subtle. It begins when the opposing team’s student section starts jawing, chanting or generally giving Simonds the business. And it ends when Simonds is walking off the court with a triple-double and the win.

“When I look at that student section,” he said. “I’ll walk by and they’ll say the craziest thing I can think of, so I’ll just put that in my mind and say, ‘This next one’s for you.’ There are even some coaches that will sit on the bench, I’ll dribble by and they’ll say something nasty. I’ll just look at them and say ‘All right, here we go.’”

Simonds isn’t blameless: He loves to instigate banter with opponents on Twitter as the notorious @TwoSpicee, where he shows off an impressive combination of confidence and banter. And on the court, he’ll drop a shot, and then challenge his defenders to stop him from making another.

But off the court, he’s just D’Marcus, a goofy but lovable teenager who recently signed to play for the Georgia State Panthers after he graduates this spring.

And if people only see the former, he’s content to listen to the jeers.

They only make him stronger.

“I have this mindset that I’ll be 10 times better than you expect me to be,” said Simonds. “And if you already think I’m good, I’ll be 10 times better than that.”

BUFORD BLUES

D’Marcus Simonds is motivated by negativity.

He said he found a lot of that at his previous home, Buford High.

During his two years at the school, Buford reached the state quarterfinals twice under then-coach Allen Whitehart, while Simonds got to show off his skills and quickly picked up interest from Mississippi State, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Connecticut and Texas A&M.

By the end of his sophomore year playing for the Wolves, Simonds said he sometimes lost motivation from playing on a strong team.

But he didn’t see as much playoff time as he wanted in either season. As a freshman, he said he was suspended for a long stretch of time for an unspecified violation. As a sophomore, Simonds said he was suspended from playing in a second-round playoff game after falling asleep in class.

At the time, Simonds had averaged 23 points, 12 rebounds and six assists per game, earning Region 7-AAA Player of the Year honors.

“It’s not something that could cause the punishment you were doing,” he said. “It was capital punishment for minor behavior.”

He then bounced back to score 58 points combined in the quarterfinals and semifinals to lead the Wolves to a state final appearance.

But Simonds needed a change: In the summer after his sophomore year, he reached out to longtime friend Chris Byrd, a running back for Gainesville High, and soon enough he was calling Red Elephants coach Benjie Wood. Simonds and Byrd met in their seventh grade year.

“Since he was blowing up at Buford, attracting all different colleges, it put more pressure on him,” said Byrd. “It probably caused the administration to be harder on him.”

Byrd said he talked to Wood first, and vouched that Simonds would thrive in a new environment. Wood knew of Simonds’ skill, but told him that he would have high expectations for his new talent, on and off the court.

Said Wood: “Our first conversation went ‘D’Marcus, we know you’re an unbelievable talent, and you’ve got a blank slate here. But if you don’t follow the rules, you won’t play.’”

‘SPICE IS HOT’

Sure, they’re friends on and off the court, but come practice time, Tae Turner knows he’s going to hear the trash talk.

Turner suits up for the “red team” at practice. Simonds, who plays for the “black team,” doesn’t take long to start chirping.

“If you let him get to you, it’ll hurt you,” said Turner. “D’marcus, he lives for that kind of stuff.”

Simonds said it was around the end of his last year at Buford that he started making a name for himself on social media.

Wanting to add a little spice to his competition, he began reaching out to his opponents, often on Twitter or Instagram.

His chosen name, @TwoSpicee, has turned into an alter-ego for him and his 3,100 followers.

“Spice is hot, spice is something people like to put on their chicken,” he said. “People like to put spice on their chicken, and I’ve got too much of it.”

Sometimes, he does it to hype up a particular matchup or other times, or just to antagonize a school’s fan base. Simonds never intends any harm.

He’s received plenty of grief, however. Simonds said he’s seen everything from Photoshopped pictures of himself, allegations that he’s sold drugs, joined a gang or assertions that he wouldn’t make it out of high school.

“I kind of take social media as a big joke,” he said. “It shouldn’t be taken seriously. Sometimes people get the wrong perception of me. But perception is reality. If they only knew what I am off the Internet, they’d understand. I’m a jokester, a clown.”

His play is no joke.

Simonds immediately fit in well with Wood’s up-tempo, high-paced offense, averaging 22.5 points per game and 5.5 boards a night last season while leading Gainesville to a second-round playoff appearance.

In his first return to Buford’s gym since he transferred, Simonds dropped 28 points against his old teammates, and the Red Elephants pulled away to win by 23.

But the highlight, by far, was a miraculous last-second game-winning buzzer beater he made in the first round at then-No. 1 seed North Atlanta. With less than six seconds left in overtime, Simonds knocked down a contested shot from the top of the key, sparking a wild celebration that featured Simonds sprinting off the court, his teammates chasing him down to the visitors’ locker room.

The play, and the jubilant reaction, soon made its way to the websites of USA Today. Simonds said it was the happiest he had felt in a Gainesville jersey.

“That was one of the craziest moments of my life,” he said.

A MOTHER’S MOTIVATION

In retrospect, Simonds’ college decision made sense: He always wanted to play and live close to his beloved mother, Wanda.

Simonds has lived with his father, Mark, since he was 3 or 4, but the family has always remained close. Simonds was born at Grady Hospital in downtown Atlanta.

So when Mississippi State men’s basketball coach Rick Ray was fired in March, Simonds made the decision to decommit from the Bulldogs. Less than a month later, Simonds verbally committed to join Georgia State, which would allow him to play out his college years in the heart of Atlanta.

“I’ve told my mother, ‘I’m gonna get you a house,’” said Simonds. “It’s motivation. She motivated me to do better in my life, to make sure I succeed through basketball and in college.”

Just days after Simonds announced, Wanda passed away at the age of 39. Simonds said her doctors were unsure of what happened, and that her death “came out of nowhere.”

Simonds was just getting back on the bus during a basketball tournament with his travel team in Louisville when he noticed several messages of support on his phone.

“I got a call from my friend, and he told me to stay strong, and I had no idea what had happened,” said Simonds. “She went to bed and she wouldn’t wake up. I didn’t know how to react.”

Simonds dealt his grief like he deals with his doubters: He’s stronger because he faces adversity head-on. Two weeks ago, he officially signed his letter of intent to play for the Panthers. He had a photo of his mother on the table in front of him.

“Anytime you lose anyone close to you, it’s tough,” said Wood. “He’s tried to take that and fuel himself, fuel those emotions to make him a better person. He’s still continuing to mature as a young man.”

NO DOUBT

As D’Marcus Simonds laces up for the final games of his high school career, the goal is simple: Win a state championship.

He came within four quarters of that goal with Buford, but the senior said it would mean more to win with Big Red.

Gainesville hasn’t won a state title since the Red Elephants won back-to-back in 1983-84.

“I really want a state title,” he said. “Not so much for myself, but for the city. People around here always talk about basketball, how they won in the 80s, and I’m like ‘Why can’t we have that team? Why can’t we be spoken about that like that?’”

If D’Marcus Simonds isn’t at the court, he’s likely to be dominating the competition on his FIFA 16 video game.

An avid soccer fan, he prefers the team Manchester City. Traditionally overlooked as the little brother to world-famous Manchester United, City has grown into a rising power in English soccer.

Simonds, a rising star in Georgia high school basketball, can relate.

“Everyone doubts them,” he said, grinning.

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