‘Two minds work better than one’: Tyi Skinner, Jaddan Simmons take reins for ASU women’s basketball

Junior guard Tyi Skinner followed new ASU coach Natasha Adair from the University of Delaware to Tempe, where she has helped lead the Sun Devils to a 7-4 record through the first 11 games of the 2022-23 season. (Photo by Sam Wasson/Getty Images)

TEMPE – Jaddan Simmons, the third-leading scorer on the ASU women’s basketball team last season, could have decided to leave the program in the offseason in the midst of a coaching change and losing both the team’s leading scorer and its leading rebounder.

However, Simmons, who has ASU in her blood with her dad having played football for the Sun Devils and her mom, cousins, aunts and uncles also attending the school, stayed the course, trusting in new coach Natasha Adair.

“It’s hard when you get a new team, a new coaching staff, but honestly the fit-in was easy for me after I had my one-on-one talk with coach A(dair),” said Simmons, now a junior, at Pac-12 WBB Media Day. “She really just made me feel welcome … She’s really showing us (returning players) that she’s gonna bring us with her. She wants us to get better, be leaders and be part of this team, and I think that’s the main reason that I stayed because I can just feel her passion, and she knows how to win.”

Simmons, who averaged 9.6 points per game last season, said she came into this year with a new mindset of being calm and confident after having a hard time finding her confidence last season, adding “it’s junior season. So it’s time to step up.” All of the work she did in the offseason, her new confidence and leadership role came to fruition right away in the season opener when she had 22 points in a 67-66 victory over NAU.

“In my initial conversation (with) her and you know watching film on her before I even got here, I just talked to her about how special she is as a person and as one of the leaders on this team,” Adair said. “So just telling her she has the green light, and I trust her with the ball in her hands. She has a very high basketball IQ. I said it’s her turn.”

Last year, Adair won the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) conference championship while coaching the Delaware Blue Hens, who were led by point guard Tyi Skinner. Skinner, who averaged 12.8 points and 3.3 assists for the Blue Hens, transferred to Arizona State with Adair, as the junior joined Simmons in the backcourt to take charge of the Sun Devils this season.

“I love new situations. I adapt really easily, so it’s a good time,” Skinner said.

“Even though I’m on a new team it’s still like the sisterhood amongst the team. We got to know each other in a short period of time, and I love playing with them. They support me, I support them. I trust them, they trust me, so it’s a great feeling.”

Skinner is excited to take on a leadership role with Simmons.

“Two minds work better than one,” Skinner said. “We work really well together. I like playing with J(addan). She’s really calm and I’m calm as well. Anytime I’m low, she’s gonna pick me up. Anytime she’s low, I’m gonna pick her up. So, it’s a really good combo.”

Adair has pre-established trust in Skinner, and she is happy to have a familiar face on the court.

“She’s a winner. She’s a champion, so she knows what it takes,” Adair said. She added that Skinner does a great job of bringing the team back to center, as she knows how to settle everyone down but also hype them up.

Because she learned under Adair for two seasons prior, Skinner has helped the team get adjusted to Adair’s coaching.

“To get (help with coaching) from a player’s standpoint, it’s just easier,” Simmons said. “She’ll just get us all where we need to be and say, ‘Hey, this is how Coach (Adair) likes it. This is what we need to do,’ and it helps a lot. So we don’t have to worry Coach (Adair) too much about all the stuff that we do.”

Skinner knows what to hone in on when telling her teammates about Adair’s style.

“Coach A(dair) is the type of coach that’s always defense first,” Skinner said. “So, we just have to be more defensive-minded as a team. She’s gonna always want us to lock down on defense, get a stop first and then push the ball. We can’t get married to the offense.”

Related story

At Delaware, Skinner felt she was in a much different situation, but is excited for the challenge of a new team.

“We had more chemistry at Delaware because we’d been through a lot together,” Skinner said. “We fought together, we battled together, went through COVID together. (There) was just so much love there, we always knew each other. I think with this team (ASU), it’s definitely new. Everybody’s getting used to each other. And I think once we get to that point, when we’re gelled and we’re clicked together, it’s gonna be the same thing.”

Over the first 11 games of the season, Skinner has averaged a team-leading 20.6 points and 2.9 assists and 1.9 steals. ASU, currently 7-4, was picked to finish last in the Pac-12 before the season in the conference’s preseason media poll. The Sun Devils open conference play against the University of Arizona on Dec. 29.

“To be picked last, I understand that we got a new coach and new players, so I get it, but it’s definitely a chip on our shoulder,” Skinner said. “We’re trying to prove everyone wrong.”

Her backcourt counterpart, Simmons, is second on the team in points averaging 13.7 points in 35.8 minutes per game after she moved over to the two-guard spot when Skinner transferred over after playing point guard last season.

“The one (position) is a lot of facilitating, so I think now it’s just easier to slow down,” Simmons said. “And I know Tyi can handle the ball. So it’s easier just to take a deep breath and work on the outside and either get my teammates open or find a shot.”

Adair added that the team doesn’t number its positions, but she has been impressed with Simmons’ ability to adapt.

“J(addan) is just a three-level scorer. I mean, you put her anywhere on the floor, she’s gonna make something positive happen,” Adair said.

With her family ties to the university, playing for the Sun Devils means a lot to Simmons.

“It’s just nice to be a part of that legacy,” she said. “I mean, as far as what I want to do for myself, just building my own name and just continuing to get better to be the best version of myself.”

In terms of her team, Simmons has learned early on how to improve as a leader.

She said she wants to focus on “helping everyone keep (their) composure. I mean, we do a good job. There’s a lot of leaders on the team, it’s not just me. But I think we could do some more of our deep breaths. I know if you guys see us huddle up, usually we’re just taking a deep breath, calming down and then just talking to players that you know, might be a little amped up. We got a lot of freshmen and stuff so just helping them out and showing them the way.

The Sun Devil squad is “player-led and coach-supported,” according to Adair, and Simmons and Skinner have accepted the challenge of being there for their teammates.

“Obviously, we lost a lot of people but now we still have players that can score and all that, but I know I just have to continue to be a leader in order for the team to be good,” Simmons said.

Skinner added: “I think we’re growing every day. Point of emphasis, Coach always says, ‘Just get one percent better each day.’ And that’s just not on the court, it’s off the court as well. Just spending time together, getting to know each other, talking to each other, it’s gonna get us better. “

Skinner’s goal this season is simple.

“Just to win, that’s all I want to do,” she said. “I want to win, I want to win a chip. I’m trying to go as far as I can with my team.”

Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Brendan Mau expects to graduate in December 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism and a minor in business. Mau has interned as a sports reporter with Times Media Group.