Friday, Feb. 13, 2009 | 12:01 a.m.
To say Mikel Simmons Jr. stands out is an understatement.
The Liberty Baptist Academy senior wears a size 18 shoe and is 6-foot-6, by far the tallest student in the small private school at Lake Mead and North Rainbow boulevards.
His height has made him a natural for the school's basketball team, which is in its third season. Simmons has not disappointed, averaging nearly 18 points and 17 rebounds a game.
"It is an advantage because I can get the ball easier," Simmons said. "But then I have to work harder because they have to work harder to guard me. Everybody knows me and they know how I play."
He has played a valuable role for the school with only 10 seniors. The school's enrollment is so small that students from its middle school were recruited to round out the roster.
But Simmons enjoys the camaraderie with his teammates and marvels at how much the team has improved.
"We are the closest class in the world," he said. "We know so many things about each other and we mess around all the time."
Liberty Baptist, which competes in the Tri-State Conference with other small private schools, has gone 6-12 this season and is gearing up for the March postseason tournament. The conference is not part of the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association, which hosts regional and state tournament.
"He is a tremendous asset," coach Clayton Sullivan said. "Just being 6-foot-6 and in the center of the court is intimidating for the other team. He has a great wing span so if he is anywhere near the basket, he's a vacuum for the ball."
Simmons learned most of his technique from his father, Mikel Simmons Sr., a 6-foot-9 former college player.
"He is a little better than I am," the elder Simmons said. "He's left handed so I want to try to make the right hand stronger."
Most of Liberty Baptist's losses came when the younger Simmons was visiting his native Philippines for three weeks in January.
The younger Simmons, son of a retired Air Force sergeant father and a Filipino mother, has grown to love his home land through occasional visits. He spent most of his last visit playing basketball with family and locals.
"There are no big men down there, so every person is important on the court," he said. "When I came back I was ready to show them what I learned down there."
He made an impression in the Philippines, having been offered a basketball scholarship while he was on the islands, according to the elder Simmons.
But Mikel Simmons Jr. prefers to stay in the United States and play basketball for a private Christian college.
"He's probably the biggest guy in our conference, but I think he has a lot more potential," said assistant coach Brad Halverson. "It will come down to how good he wants to be."
Sean Ammerman can be reached at 990-2661 or firstname.lastname@example.org.