As the long offseason comes to an absolute baby crawl, I found some time to catch up with my guy, former Louisville basketball player Alvin Sims for a good old-fashioned remote rap session.
Alvin Sims is well-known for being one of Louisville basketball’s greatest all-time dunkers, but as his college career progressed, he emerged as one of the leaders on a Cardinal squad that snapped an 11-year Elite Eight drought in the 1997 NCAA Tournament.
In his final two seasons of his Louisville career, Sims averaged 11.6 ppg, 5.4 rpg, and 2.5 steals per game, meanwhile shooting 48-percent from the field. He is one of the school’s all-time leaders in career steals and ranks third in career dunks.
I sat down with the Kentucky native to cover a spectrum of topics, past present, and future, ranging from his college years to the current team, weight loss, and even quarantine activities.
One thing about good ole no. 5 that this interview will surely convey to the reader is this: he is one hard-working, motivated, and driven individual and those characteristics were absorbed long before he landed in The Ville.
Alan Thomas: Can you describe your upbringing and what you remember about Louisville when you were a kid?
Alvin Sims: I was born in Evanston, Illinois and moved to Kentucky when I was nine. I was raised primarily by my mother. It was me, my little brother, and her. We didn’t have much, and I was taught that in order to succeed I had to work hard and develop work ethic.
I hauled wood in a wheel barrel, picked walnuts, etc. to earn extra money. I was a natural athlete. My great grandfather William B. Reed was an All-American in three or four sports at Kentucky State University. The word spread pretty quickly how talented of an athlete I was, but I didn’t choose to be a basketball player until my Sophomore year in high school. Watching Micheal Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson & Isaiah Thomas inspired me.
I routed for the Illini since I was from Illinois. My Uncle Leon Roberts was a big-time Louisville fan, and while I was at his house I watched games with him.
Thomas: What was the recruiting process like for you, and did you have a good relationship with Coach Denny Crum?
Sims: The recruiting process was very difficult for me. I had a lot of interest from schools that I didn’t have much interest in. I didn’t know exactly how I would fit in. I felt like I was being rushed to make a decision. Every in-state school had interest except for Kentucky. Xavier had a lot of interest as well, along with other major D1 schools.
I had a miscommunication with Morehead State, because they falsely claimed I verbally committed. It was published in a magazine and that hurt my recruitment process. Everyone backed off and I had to start all over.
Fortunately, Louisville still had a scholarship, and Scooter McCray & Larry Gay scouted me. My relationship with Coach Crum was difficult in the beginning. I was in the learning process of being coached. By my junior year, I figured it out and found my identity.
I learned a tremendous amount of valuable basketball & life situations from Coach Crum and it has been essential in my career, along with me passing down knowledge to my own children. I use Coach Crum’s philosophies when I coach and train individuals. I’m blessed to have had him as my coach.
Thomas: What was your favorite moment as a Louisville basketball player?
Sims: Playing at Rupp (Arena) my Junior year destroying the rims! Even though we lost the game, it was mission accomplished representing my hometown of Paris, Ky, just 11 minutes down the road. That game and season was dedicated to my father who had just passed away.
Thomas: Let’s dive into memories from the 1997 Elite Eight season. What was it about that group of players that made that team so special?
Sims: Our group was special because we knew our roles. We knew we were under-sized and we weren’t recognized as a top 25 team in the beginning of the year. That team had unbelievable grit. We always fought til the end. We played every game with a chip on our shoulders.
Finally breaking through to the Elite Eight was special because we had the chance the year before with the lost to Wake Forest. I felt we should have won that game and probably went even further. We overcame many obstacles and I’m honored to have played with a great group of guys.
Thomas: Can you relive the legendary dunk vs Texas in the Sweet 16 of that year?
Sims: The dunk I had against Texas, I knew I had to come with aggression every time because they protected the rim well. They had strong athletes so I couldn’t come with anything in mind but a poster.
I caught the ball. they were in a zone press rotating. They tried to close out. I pumped faked and saw an opening to the middle. I took flight and punched it. It was a very exhilarating moment, especially in the Orange Dome during the NCAA Tournament.
Thomas: Who was a former opposing player you loved to hate?
Sims: Jeff Shepherd.
Thomas: Most-hated opposing team other than Kentucky?
Sims: Definitely Cincinnati. They were physical and dirty. I loved taking them down.
Thomas: Favorite former Louisville teammate?
Sims: DeJuan Wheat. We had a special backcourt bond, and we also had some experiences during our professional careers.
Thomas: Name a player off the 2019-20 team that is most similar to your game, and why?
Sims: The closest would be Dwayne Sutton. He’s definitely a utility type player who can guard different positions, rebounds and attacks the rim.
Thomas: What about from the 2020-21 roaster?
Sims: I would say David Johnson…creative off the dribble and he had a nice dunk at Duke this year…caught my attention.
Sims: I feel like Chris Mack is holding the tradition down. He’s doing very well. He’s overcoming a lot of obstacles. I never thought The Ville would be #1 so soon, but that’s an indicator that he’s going in the right direction.
The future will be very successful. Coach Mack definitely has a strong foundation. I believe he has philosophies that will push his players to their full potential.
Thomas: What Louisville player are you most excited about moving forward?
Sims: I like David Johnson. I think once he gains more experience and develops, he will be essential to the team.
Thomas: Talk about your weight loss journey. How many pounds have you lost?
Sims: The journey started in November 2018. I had a couple of eye openers. I weighed 380 pounds and my mother was going through cancer.
The weight gain started after retiring in 2009 after my second foot injury. I had the same injuries as Yao Ming “Jones fracture”. I tried weight watchers, old diets from trainers, nothing put a dent in my weight and health recovery.
I did some research and came across the Ketogenic diet and it helped rejuvenate my entire body. I was even able to play competitive ball again. I lost 137 pounds and I stopped counting after that. It’s a lifestyle for me now. It keeps me sharp mentally & physically. I’ve even put together a program that I followed to reach my goal, collaborated with the journal I kept for 12 months.
Thomas: What’s your go-to snack?
Sims: I cook with bacon grease a lot, so I snack on bacon.
Thomas: Do you have a favorite quarantine pastime?
Sims: Cycling. I’ve been going for rides, permitting this chaotic weather here in Davenport, Iowa. I plan on riding in events when this pandemic is over.
Thomas: What kind of music and television do you keep in your daily rotation?
Sims: I’m a Wu-Banger, CZARFACE, old school hip hop, and 80’s music. I’ve been watching CNN since there is no basketball. I also binge-watch On Demand Steve Wilkos, Maury, and YouTube videos about cycling and healthy eating.
Thomas: What is your 5-year plan?
Sims: Become a head basketball coach at the high school level or on a staff at the college or professional level.
This particular interview was a blessing and a privilege for yours truly, as I grew up falling in love with Louisville teams in the 1990s. That 1997 team that Alvin and I spoke about will always be dear to our hearts. Before that season, Louisville had not made it to a Regional Final since the 1986 Championship.
I’d say #5 has a bright future ahead of him. Not bad for an old wheel barrel pusher.