Two-sport stars not ready to trade gridiron for court

More news about: Endicott | St. Lawrence | Wartburg
Leondre Simmon shows off his rebounding form, but on the football field.
Simmon also has good field vision and knows where the ball needs to go on offense. Or is that court vision?
St. Lawrence athletics photos 

Several players across Division III aren’t quite ready to join their basketball teammates on the hardwood -- there are still two more weeks of the regular season in football, not to mention the possibility of the playoffs.

So it goes for athletes who leap from the intensity of football into the grind of basketball season.

“The transition is a little difficult at first. In freshman year, it was kind of mind-blowing,” said St. Lawrence senior Leondre Simmon. “As the years went on, it only got easier since then. There’s the same competitive spirit in both sports.”

Simmon is far from alone in this situation. Chris Lipscomb at Endicott, Logan Pitz at Wartburg and players from Rochester, St. Scholastica and Huntingdon (which has two) are among the many others that do this. There are certainly more across the nation. Hobart and St. John’s have first-year players who will be playing basketball in just a few short weeks.

“As each year progresses, you know the guys all that much better. Each year, you only have a couple of new freshmen that you get to meet,” said Pitz, a basketball guard who is also a defensive back on the football team. He was first-team All-IIAC on the gridiron last season.

Among the most jarring aspects of going from one sport to the other is the physical conditioning necessary. In football, plays come about in short bursts, and there is often time to breathe between plays or when the other unit is on the field. Basketball is far different.

In football, “you’ve got to go hard every six seconds, but in basketball, it’s almost constant running for 20-minute halves. I would say that the conditioning for basketball is a little more time-consuming. You have to be in shape for that more than for football,” said Simmon, an All-American defensive back who started 20 games at guard on St. Lawrence’s basketball team last year.

Endicott’s Lispcomb, a football wideout and basketball guard, said that he usually misses about six weeks of basketball practice and games because of the football season.

“It’s an adjustment. Playing a couple of games a week rather than just a game a week is definitely different. When I get into the flow of it, it becomes natural again,” the junior said. “Coming out of football, you’re already in some kind of shape. You just have to get adjusted to the back and forth of basketball.”

Pitz echoes that sentiment.

Logan Pitz switches numbers for the winter -- no wearing No. 19 allowed in college basketball -- and his basketball season was a little shorter last year.

“After the football season, it takes a little bit to get into the basketball swing of things,” said the senior, who notes that a lot of colleges weren’t open to him playing both sports.

He said he was happy that the Knights gave him that opportunity.

“I love both sports, and I couldn’t give one up,” Pitz said. “I was fortunate enough to have Wartburg let me do both.”

The flexibility of coaching staffs and the ability for players to manage their time has made the dual-sport scenarios possible.

“My basketball coaches are really good about understanding that when it’s football season, that takes priority,” Pitz said. “And the other way around, the football coaches are good in understanding that once I start up with basketball season, that where my head is at.”

Lipscomb said that playing two sports has helped him academically because it’s given him structure. He said he has a keener awareness of his time and how to juggle his obligations.

“When I’m in season, the structure of having practice and meetings, you know when you need to get your other stuff done,” he said.

Lipscomb has played football since his sophomore year in high school, but he’s been a basketball player almost his whole life. He was recruited to Endicott initially by the football staff, but then started talking with the basketball coaches, too. He said both were pursuing him simultaneously, which foreshadowed the mutual support he was to get from the groups as he played both sports.

Chris Lipscomb was initially recruited by Endicott to play football but the basketball coaching staff got into the game soon thereafter.

“When I come in [to basketball], it takes me a week or so to get used to playing with them, but once I get back in the flow of things, it’s not bad at all,” Lipscomb said. “My teammates and coaches also do a great job of helping me out when I come back, getting focused and getting with their schemes. It’s a team effort, definitely.”

At St. Lawrence, Simmon meets with the basketball assistant coaches right when football ends, and he gets plays emailed to him early on so that he can glance over them every now and then -- not that he has many free moments.

“Time management is something I had to learn while playing both sports. The coaches are pretty flexible with school and basketball and football,” said Simmon, who is the Saints’ big-play guy. “My basketball coach knows that 100 percent of my effort goes into football until the season ends, and then I’ll give him 100 percent for basketball.”

Simmon said, too, that he’s friends with many other players on the basketball team, so when they’re hanging out, they often talk about the plays. It’s just a natural component of what they do when they’re together.

Does Lipscomb, Pitz or Simmon have a favorite of the two sports?

Lipscomb probably sums it up the best in that his “favorite” depends on the season -- he very much enjoys whichever of the sports he’s currently playing. So the answer to that question always changes.

Living in the now means keeping this season going as long as possible. Pitz and his Wartburg teammates made a deep football playoff run in 2014, and at 7-1, they have a chance of making the postseason again this fall.

St. Lawrence is also 7-1, including 5-0 in conference play, and is hunting for its first playoff bid since 2010. Simmon said he’d be happy to keep playing football.

“There will be no complaints over here,” he said. “I’m ready to keep the football season going as long as possible.”

Picking through the playoff picture

Last night we got our first look at the regional rankings, the coveted 40-team wrap-up that gives us insight into the thinking of the four Division III regional committees.

Many teams on the four lists will get automatic bids from their conferences, so they won’t be fighting for the one Pool B or six Pool C spots. So far, St. Scholastica is the only team to have clinched a playoff berth via the automatic-qualifying path. This weekend, 18 more teams have the opportunity to guarantee themselves a spot in the postseason. For everyone else, it will be come down to Week 11.

Poised to join the playoff field simply with a win on Saturday are Berry, Case Western Reserve/ Thomas More (they play each other), Dubuque, Framingham State, Franklin, Huntingdon, Husson (but not Norwich), Johns Hopkins, La Verne, Linfield, St. Lawrence, St. Thomas, UW-Oshkosh, Washington and Lee, Wesley and Wheaton.

A handful of conferences are bearing down on scenarios that involve three-way ties at the top of the conference. The CCIW and MIAA are among them, with the latter of particular surprise this fall. For those keeping an eye on the Michigan contingency and trying to sort through what these next two weeks of play mean in terms of Albion, Olivet or Trine getting the automatic bid, here are the conference’s tiebreaker rules:

  • The MIAA football championship shall be awarded on the basis of the percentage of victories and losses of total games played.
  • Teams tied for first place in percentages at the end of the season shall be recognized as co-champions.
  • Criteria for determining NCAA automatic qualifiers: If a tie should occur it will be broken by the following criteria:

a. A comparison of head-to-head results between the tied teams

b. The tied teams record versus the next highest place in the league standing until broken

c. The tied teams overall winning percentage (season)

d. The tied teams total non-league opponents’ won/loss record - winning percentage

e. If tied teams are still not broken - coin toss

f. If there are more than two teams tied, the above criteria will be used until only two teams remain. At that point, revert back to item “a.” and compare head-to-head records between the two remaining teams.

By my interpretation, Albion will get the automatic bid if all three teams win out. In the first run through these criteria, Trine will lose the tiebreaker scenario at stage “c”. Then, when the scenario starts back over factoring in only Albion and Olivet, Albion owns the head-to-head victory between the teams and thus gets the postseason bid.

These MIAA teams, as well as the teams that can clinch this weekend, will only get their ticket to the playoffs punched; we won’t know until Selection Sunday (Nov. 15) how the brackets will be structured. Even though the committees that decide the regional rankings are broken up geographically (North, South, East, West), the NCAA no longer looks at the brackets themselves that way.

For example, last year we ended up with Linfield and Widener in the same bracket, and it’s difficult for teams to be any farther apart than that. By the same token, in 2013 Mary Hardin-Baylor was paired in a bracket with Rowan, St. John Fisher and Endicott, while Linfield and Hampden-Sydney played each other.

The NCAA will select the No. 1 seeds for each bracket and build the playoff framework around them. There will, of course, be an emphasis on limiting flights and keeping teams within a 500-mile, busable distance, but “island” teams such as those on the West Coast or in Texas will have to fly somewhere no matter what (especially after Round 1), so the NCAA takes a lot of creative leeway in what brackets those teams are slotted into.

Adam Turer

Adam Turer graduated in 2006 from Washington and Lee University, where he was a two-year starter at free safety. He lives in Cincinnati and covers area high school sports in addition to his full-time job as an attorney. Adam has contributed to D3football.com since 2007 and is in his second season writing Around the Nation after spending four seasons writing Around the Mid-Atlantic.

2014-2015 columnist: Ryan Tipps.
2001-2013 columnist: Keith McMillan.

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