One day, perhaps shortly after her Hatter playing days are over, Sasha Sims may be considered one of the greatest players in Stetson women’s basketball history. She currently ranks among the school all-time leaders in several categories including points scored (second), rebounds (10th), and blocked shots (first). During her four years she has helped lead the team to 91 victories, three postseason appearances and two Atlantic Sun titles - and her senior year is far from over.
However, it was not an easy journey for Sims to reach these personal or team milestones. In fact, not many people who saw her play early in her career would have thought such success to be possible.
“Her freshman year, all she did was shoot 3’s,” head coach Lynn Bria said. “That is all she had in her game. She did nothing else for our team. We needed (the 3’s), but thank God we had (Victoria) McGowan and a really good group.”
Sims, a standout prep player at Fayette County High School near Atlanta, admitted that Stetson wasn’t initially on her radar when she was looking at colleges. However, two things grabbed her attention: The high quality of academics Stetson had to offer and the strong recruiting effort made by the Hatters’ head coach.
“Coach Bria was on it,” Sims said. “She had done an in-home visit, she came to my school, and she even came to a class. She sat there with me through the whole class and messed with me and my friends. It was really weird, but it meant a lot. Some head coaches don’t do a lot as far as recruiting, but she was all in.”
At that point the Hatters’ program had not seen a lot of recent success, so Bria knew it would be a challenge to land someone of Sims’s caliber.
“She was somebody we could build the program around and be the backbone of our success,” Bria said. “It was huge because we hadn’t had anybody like her. She was a major piece to the puzzle as far as us building this program. We did feel like we had some transfers in place that would help us, but I really wanted some good freshmen. To get someone like her who can do so many things well, I knew that once we got her we were going to be in pretty good shape.”
When Sims made her official visit to see the Stetson campus and meet the team, she was immediately hooked.
“Most of the part was feeling like I was really wanted here,” Sims said. “The team is real family oriented. I loved when I came on my visit everybody was themselves. It didn’t seem like they were on a script.”
So Sims chose to become a Hatter, and during her freshmen season, she averaged nearly 10 points a game and landed on the Atlantic Sun All-Freshman Team. However, she really struggled with the amount of responsibility and the high expectations that were placed on her right from the start of her career.
“My freshman year was pretty tough,” Sims said. “I came in, and the program was in the process of trying to turn over a new leaf. I was expected to perform at a high level every day from the day I got here. If there was a problem and we were getting in trouble, it probably was because of me. I was the only freshman, so if anything went wrong, it was like, ‘Yeah, Sasha messed it up.’ It was pretty tough.”
“It was hard for her, because she was the lone freshman, but she was never, never treated like a freshman,” Bria said. “I just felt like she was so talented and she should be giving us more. I have never been easy on her. It has always been hard for her; I made sure of that.”
Sims didn’t see it at the time, but now says that Bria was molding her to not only become a better player, but a team leader as well.
“I can’t even say I accepted the role at the time,” Sims said. “I didn’t want to talk; I didn’t want to help anyone else out; I just wanted to make sure I was doing everything right, because I knew I might possibly mess something up. However, coach Bria taught me how to get outside myself and encourage other people, to figure out everything that is going on, not just focus on your position or your own struggles.”
As Sims became more of a leader, her ability and her performance took off as well.
“Since (her freshman year) she has really developed her game,” Bria said. “She can score off the bounce; she can post up. She can still shoot the 3, she rebounds a lot better, and she blocks shots. She has just evolved into this well-rounded player that I always saw her as.”
Sims recalled the “Miracle in Macon” game as a major turning point for the program, when Victoria McGowan hit a 55-foot buzzer beater in the A-Sun semifinals to advance Stetson to the Atlantic Sun Championship game.
“That was probably some of the most exciting times of my collegiate career, not only because (Victoria) actually made the shot, but because of our fight that whole game,” Sims said. “Even after we made that foul, and Belmont was on the free throw line, I just kept clapping my hands saying ‘Yo, we got this. Right here, right here, we got this.’ It looked like it was over, it really did. I usually get a gut a feeling when we are about to lose, but I never felt like we had lost. Once we took the ball out and Victoria got the shot off, it was surreal. It was like slow motion. Once it went in, there was so much emotion.”
Video: Miracle in Macon
Stetson went on to beat Jacksonville for the A-Sun title, and Sims played a major role. After scoring just one point against Belmont, the Hatter freshman nailed six three-pointers against the Dolphins and finished with 24 points and 12 rebounds in the championship victory.
“It was like night and day,” Sims said. “The night before I couldn’t make a shot, and the next day I couldn’t miss. It was pretty exciting.”
Her sophomore year, Sims earned second-team all-conference honors and help lead Stetson back to the A-Sun Championship game. This time, however, Stetson fell short in its repeat bid, falling to FGCU 67-39.
"(That) championship game really helped me grow, just to see how it feels to be on the other end," Sims said. "Losing in the tournament is tough, but I feel like losing in the championship game is like knowing that you were so close and you fall short.
"Even in losing we still made history, taking the school to its first WNIT,” Sims added. “That was a big deal just to be a part of that. We do wish we could have done better, but at the end of the day it is all about progress, and we were still progressing."
The Hatters continued to progress Sims’s junior year, setting school-records for longest overall and home court winning streaks as well as for most victories in a season. Once again Stetson met its rival in the A-Sun Championship game, and the first half looked like a repeat of the year before. Sims picked up two fouls early in the game, and the Hatters were down 13 points at halftime.
"I was determined to make it happen for our senior class because I felt they were deserving of it," Sims said. "I told them at halftime to just shake it off, and we are about to kill the second half because, you don’t work as hard as they worked and not finish your season as a champion. I was really upset with myself but not selfish enough to not continue to cheer. I was pretty intense the whole time, clapping my hands and making sure they heard me. Once the second half came, we were focused."
Sims spearheaded a second-half comeback with 12 points, five blocks, and a game-winning basket with 21 seconds remaining to lift Stetson to its second A-Sun title in the span of three years.
Despite the loss of six seniors from last year’s team, Sims and the Hatters are both working on their finest season yet. As the lone senior on this year’s freshman-laden squad, Sims has played the role of team leader on and off the court. Her standout performances have led to three A-Sun Player of the Week awards this season alone, and with a record of 24-5, the Hatters have already equaled their largest win total in school history.
In addition to her efforts on the court, Sims has played a valuable role acclimating the Hatter freshmen to the program and setting an example for them to follow later in their careers.
“I think because she has been in our program for four years, she has helped with the transition this year of our very young team,” Bria said. “I think this year she is the best player she has ever been, and we rely on her more than we have in the years past, and she has responded perfectly to it. We wouldn’t be having the success now without her response.”
“From the door, coach Bria has expected me to produce,” Sims said. “I wasn’t just another player she recruited to help the team. No, ‘you are going to help lead the team.’ That was from the door. Of course the leadership demands are much higher now, but those years helped me become the player that I am now.”
With 1547 points in her career, Sims has climbed all the way to number two on Stetson’s all-time scoring list, and she is just 24 points shy of breaking the school record. Her focus this weekend, however, will be on the team’s match-up with FGCU as the A-Sun regular season title and home court advantage throughout the A-Sun championship is on the line. Sims will be honored during Senior Day festivities prior to tip-off.
There is something else Sims would rather not focus on, and that is the eventual end of her collegiate career.
“For any division I basketball player, this is a game that you love,” Sims said. “You cannot not love the game to play at this level. It is something I try not to think about because it is an emotional thing, so I am just taking it game by game. A lot times C.J. (Coddington) and Jama (Sharp) like to remind me after a game, ‘Oh my gosh, you only have such and such games left,’ and then they get sad. Our team is already emotional, so we need to not talk about emotional topics, because somebody might cry.”
When her Stetson career does finally come to a close, Sims says she hopes to keep playing professionally.
“I would love to continue playing,” Sims said. “Basketball is my heart, so if I could continue to play, and go overseas or wherever God takes me, and continue to do what I love to do, it would be the greatest opportunity.”