A former Knicks coach is mentoring a player who could be one of their future guards.
Rick Pitino, the Long Island native who coached the Knicks in the late 1980s, has been helping Anfernee Simons with the NBA Draft process.
The 6-foot-3 Simons is a point guard who was named after former NBA star and new University of Memphis coach Anfernee "Penny" Hardaway. He initially committed to Louisville when Pitino was the coach, but then decommitted after the FBI investigation into college basketball ensnared Louisville last fall, ultimately costing Pitino his job there.
"He's always been there from Day 1, in terms of when Anfernee committed to Louisville until after the unfortunate incident that happened at Louisville," Charles Simons, Anfernee's father, told SNY.tv by phone. "After that, he's always been there. Any time we ask him a question, he gives us his knowledge and we definitely appreciate that."
For a long time, Pitino owned a luxurious home in South Florida, the same state where Simons graduated from Edgewater High School in 2017 and then enrolled for a post-graduate season at IMG Academy this past year. After de-committing from Louisville, Simons announced in March that he would declare for the NBA Draft. Because he turned 19 this year (on Friday) and is one year removed from his graduating class, he is eligible for the draft. He is attempting to follow the preps-to-pros route of Thon Maker, the South Sudanese forward who spent a postgrad year at Orangeville Prep in Ontario whom the Milwaukee Bucks drafted 10th overall in 2016.
Pitino and Simons have stayed connected throughout, with the coach even taking the player out on his boat.
"Yeah, yeah, he took us on boat ride when we were down in Miami because that's where Anfernee trained at," Charles said. "Coach P has a home in Miami, so we saw him. But we probably talk to him twice a week."
Before the NBA Draft Combine, Pitino attended a workout where Simons played in front of several NBA teams.
"I believe he misses basketball truly," Charles said. "I believe he misses helping the kids, helping them grow. He's been doing that for a long time and I believe that he does miss it."
Pitino, 65, has long insisted that he knew nothing about the various scandals at Louisville, including the pay-for-play scandal involving Adidas and recruit Brian Bowen that ultimately cost Pitino his job. (Bowen is also eligible for the draft after the NCAA ruled he would have to sit the 2018-19 season at South Carolina.) Pitino has repeatedly said he hopes to get back into coaching at some level.
In the meantime, his protege Simons continues the NBA Draft process. He worked out for his home-state Orlando Magic on Saturday and was scheduled to come to the Knicks on Monday but will have to reschedule after falling ill.
Simons told reporters in Orlando he also has upcoming workouts with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Memphis Grizzlies and Milwaukee Bucks. ESPN projects him to go No. 34 to the Atlanta Hawks.
In addition to their first-round pick, the Knicks also pick at No. 36. Should they draft a wing or forward like Villanova's Mikal Bridges, Michigan State's Miles Bridges, Missouri's Michael Porter Jr. or Duke's Wendell Carter Jr. at No. 9, they could opt to take a point guard like Simons with their second-round pick.
For his part, Simons says going from the preps to the pros isn't a risk, and he feels he's ready to help an NBA team.
"Honestly, I didn't feel like it was a risk," Simons told the Orlando Sentinel on Saturday. "I knew what I was getting myself into, and I knew I was confident that I was going to be able to get to this moment and have my name called June 21st. Playing basketball is no pressure for me."
Follow @AdamZagoria on Twitter