Since freshman guard Derek Simpson announced his commitment to the Rutgers men’s basketball program, he has constantly been compared to now-retired star guard Geo Baker. Much like Baker, Simpson is a guard who was overlooked coming out of high school.
Simpson only added to the comparisons when it was announced he would take the number zero for the upcoming basketball season, the same number Baker had on his back for his five-year career on the Banks.
“(Having Baker's number) is a great blessing from him,” Simpson said. “They asked him if I could wear it, and he was like ‘why not?’ I get comparisons to him all the time, every day. It is cool to have — to get compared to a great that came out of here.”
On a surface level, it may be easy to compare Simpson and Baker, but there are key differences between the two. During summer and fall open practices, Simpson seemed quicker. He can get to the rim at breakneck speed and showcased this during the exhibition match against Fairfield. Simpson only stands at 6-feet-3-inches, but when he gets in the air to attempt a dunk, he makes up for every inch.
Simpson threw down many impressive dunks during practice and may already be the Scarlet Knights' most electric dunker outside of junior center Clifford Omoruyi. While Simpson seems to embrace the comparisons to Baker, he is also aware of the legacy he wants to create outside of Baker and the differences in their games.
“I am a quick, athletic guard,” Simpson said. “I'm ready to pounce on a ball whenever. I'm ready to make a move whenever. I'm ready to go try to dunk on anyone whenever. I think my athleticism is maybe a little different then (baker), but still, I think my midrange is almost like him. You want to be your own person.”
While the comparisons can be flattering, it can be easy to get lost in all the commentary, and there is no time to get lost as a freshman point guard in the Big Ten. It is arguably the hardest position to play in college basketball because not only does being a point guard require a steep learning curve, but it also requires being a leader.
Simpson is aware of the challenges that being a point guard in college basketball poses and showcased maturity in the assessment of his game and confidence in his ability to lead.
“One of the bigger adjustments is talking because the gym gets bigger. More people are in the arena,” Simpson said. “I kind of have learned the hard way that you have to speak up a little bit louder ... As a point guard, it is a bigger job at the next level — leading your team, talking to your players and motivating everybody.”
Some may see the zero on Simpson’s back as the passing of the torch, but Simpson did not take the number to be the next Baker. Rather, he took the number to imprint his own legacy and become the next great Rutgers guard. The confidence and composure he has shown during summer and fall open practices indicate that Simpson is on the right track.
“I can’t wait until the first ball goes up in the air,” Simpson said. “What Rutgers fans can expect of me is a great all-around player and just a player that is out there trying to lead his team to a win. That is my goal at the end of the day.”
For more updates on the Rutgers men's basketball team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.