While Kurt Simmons helped to start the Winberie’s team in the Princeton Recreation Department Men’s Summer Basketball League several years ago, he assumed a bigger leadership role this season.
With co-founder Mark Rosenthal deciding to step aside as the team’s manager to help out with league administration, Simmons became a player-coach for Winberie’s.
In reflecting on his increased responsibility, Simmons acknowledged that it initially took some adjusting.
“It was tough in the beginning,” said Simmons. “We had a lot of good guys but bringing these guys together was rough. Mark and I started this team with another guy, Dave Uitti. It was a struggle in the beginning but Mark really put in the foundation for this team and I just took over that role for him.”
Building on that foundation, Simmons guided Winberie’s to the league title last week as it swept King’s Pizzarama in the best-of-three championship series, culminating with a 61-60 win last Wednesday evening at the Community Park courts.
“We have been battle-tested throughout the season,” said Simmons, noting that the team posted a 7-1 regular season record with the one loss being a forfeit.
“Coming into tight games like this, we are ready for them. If you look at our record over the last five years, we have only lost four or five or six games. We are a pretty impressive team.”
In the finale on Wednesday, former LaSalle player Simmons produced an impressive performance in the paint, blocking several shots and chipping in 8 points.
“The legs felt good tonight,” said the 6’6 Simmons with a laugh. “I just wanted to come out and be aggressive. I didn’t want to go back to a third game on Friday. We just wanted to close this out tonight and get this championship.”
For Simmons, the squad’s solidarity, forged through past playoff battles — including a run to the 2012 league crown, was a key factor in the win.
“Having those veteran guys and that camaraderie,” said Simmons, when asked what qualities make Winberie’s special.
“A lot of us have been playing together for the last five or six years. A lot of us play together throughout the year in different leagues so coming out here and playing is just another day in the park basically.”
Holding things together as a coach made the title extra special for Simmons.
“It means a lot, this is my first year as a player-coach, technically if you take away that forfeit, I haven’t lost a game as a coach,” said Simmons.
“It is great to be able and come out and win a championship in a league that is as good as this. It means a lot, especially to be able to say we have won two in the last three years.”