You could excuse Demetrius Mims if he felt like things had gone against him since he left Baltimore Polytechnic Institute in 2018 and embarked on what was supposed to be a star-studded college basketball career.
Mims took his talent to Long Beach State, where he mostly sat at the end of the 49ers’ long bench. At the end of the 2018-19 season, he came home and transferred to Towson, a tough decision for a competitor who didn’t like the idea of giving up.
“I just never got a chance, but it was tough,” he said of the long discussions with his mother, Jeanette, to make a decision. “I felt it was just best to go anywhere I could get a chance.”
And that “anywhere” turned out to be Towson, where Mims had a relationship with the coaches, particularly assistant Pat O’Connell who had recruited him, but also head coach Pat Skerry. The Tigers had pursued him out of Poly, and Mims’ timing was impeccable. After sitting out as a transfer last season, he joins a retooling roster that lost four starters and three of the top four scorers off a 19-13, 12-6, third-in-the-Colonial-Athletic-Association squad.
“He’s got good size and he’s tremendous athlete,” Skerry said of Mims. “When you watch him, you see he could be really, really good defensively and on the offensive glass, two areas that have been consistently good for us throughout the years. He has to learn — can he make enough shots? Share the ball? That kind of stuff. It’s early. He just doesn’t have a lot of game experience.”
At Long Beach State, Mims played in 18 games, starting one, but chipped in just 1.3 points and 1.1 rebounds before opting to head home after his freshman season. Part of the problem with his paltry production wasn’t discovered until he got to Towson and doctors found he had been playing with a torn labrum in his shoulder.
“I had been playing with [the injury] for about three or four months before I left Long Beach,” he said. “It was always bothering me, but I just kept putting ice on it and they told me it would get better. When I got to Towson, they gave me an MRI.”
Mims had surgery in July 2019, worked his way back during the 2019-20 season, and had been practicing a few weeks when he broke a bone in his hand and missed more time with the Tigers. Then came the pandemic and nobody got to get together and work on their game anymore.
“It has been awhile since I’ve been able to play the game full speed and the way I love to play it,” Mims said. “I think I’ve shown glimpses in practice and I’m working to get better and better every day. When the season gets here, Demetrius Mims is going to be back.”
Coming out of Poly, Sims thought his game translated perfectly to the free-flowing, fast-break style on the West Coast. His older brother, Daquan Cook, had made a similar decision in 2012 out of St. Frances Academy, signing with UNLV. The 6-foot-6 Mims, with his mother’s backing, also liked the idea of being away from home where his entire focus would be on basketball and books.
But it became immediately apparent he wasn’t going to get enough basketball, Long Beach State coaches admitted they had too many veterans ahead of Mims and didn’t give their faraway addition any path to playing time. He didn’t think he had a real chance to show what he could do, and there were rumors the 49ers were looking to “86” him.
The same day Mims got his release from Long Beach State, Towson’s O’Connell called him.
“They said they’d like to have me, and they told me I’d have the opportunity to prove myself, and that’s all I could ever ask for,” Mims said.
Mims had proved himself as a big-time prospect at Poly, leading the Engineers to consecutive Class 3A championships and finishing as the school’s all-time leading scorer with 1,516 career points. His senior season, he averaged 18.1 points and 7.1 rebounds and was named first-team All-Metro by The Baltimore Sun for a second time.
Now Mims is out to reestablish himself. He’s only a sophomore, but he’s older and wiser and could be a key piece for Towson, which looks to be strong on the perimeter with flashy sophomore Jason Gibson returning along with junior Jakigh Dottin and sophomore Nicolas Timberlake.
There’s also senior point guard Zane Martin, who transferred back to the Tigers after a year at New Mexico; versatile Curtis Holland III, a Churchton, Md., native returning closer to home from High Point University, and athletic and well-traveled grad transfer Cam Allen, most recently at CSU-Bakersfield. It’s a talented but unproven mix, at least unproven together in the Tigers’ den.
And how does Mims fit in? No one is quite sure. Yet.
“I’ve been taking a big focus on the defensive end, which Coach Skerry emphasizes,” Mims said. “Hopefully my defensive presence will get me minutes. I can spot up and shoot and I love to use my athleticism to get into the teeth of the defense.”
That’s the Mims most remember from his prolific Poly career – a strong finisher around the basket who excelled in putting himself into position to succeed at that end and could carry a team when needed.
It hasn’t been easy getting back to his game that once came so easily, thanks to a little Long Beach lethargy from the rust he built up there, then the injuries and then COVID-19 making it tougher to practice and play.
“The first four months [of the pandemic] were tough,” he added. “I really didn’t get to shoot a basketball in a gym, but I’m a quiet dude — an introvert — and it wasn’t hard to get into a normal routine.”
Mims put his head down and worked through the workouts prescribed for him by his coaches, and then found a workout partner in nearby cousin Corey Watson. They got together to lift weights on the weekends.
Now Mims wants more heavy lifting. He’s ready for a bigger role and the fact it could come back home is just more motivation. Two years ago, he gave away all his game tickets to teammates at Long Beach State. When things get back to normal, he may need Towson teammates to step up with extras for Mims’ family and friends, including his mother, brother and sister, Alia, and his grandparents.
There are unknowns to work through before basketball gets back to those simple kinds of concerns. Meanwhile, Mims is making the most of his new start. He’s beginning to round back into form, and Skerry said Mims had his best practice with the Tigers recently.
The import of that assessment from the coach wasn’t lost on the young guard.
“[Skerry] told me I didn’t have any turnovers for the day, and I shot the ball exceptionally well,” he said. “I’m just trying to build on that day. It was a waking-up point for me and told me I can still play how I used to. It’s a good feeling.”
Mims made a point to say he’s not dwelling on the past: a Long Beach longshot that didn’t pay off, a lot of injuries and then as he just got back, having to step away because of the current national health crisis.
“I’m not asking for anything to be given to me. That’s not the kind of person I am,” he said. “I’m just trying to get to where I’m consistently playing at a high level. All I want people to know is that I’m going to give 100 percent effort every time I step on the floor and I won’t ever quit.”
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Towson Athletics