After her second season as a college basketball player, Maddie Simon got a reboot that will change how she looks at her career, after she plays her final season this year for the Nebraska women’s basketball team.
In her first season, Nebraska won 18 games and played in the WNIT, and after the season, there was a coaching change. In her second year, the Huskers won just seven games.
But last season, the Huskers had a major turnaround and a 21-11 record. The Huskers tied for third in the Big Ten Conference and advanced to the first round of the NCAA Tournament. That was more like the program Simon watched while growing up in Lincoln, when the Huskers made the NCAA Tournament four straight years from 2012 to ’15.
Now Simon gets one more chance for a good season, and she’ll do so on a team that returns its top five scorers from last season while also welcoming a graduate transfer and four freshmen who should help right away. Simon is one of just two seniors, and the only player that’s been in the program for four years.
Simon’s big season last year came after a position change from being a guard that mostly came off the bench to a starting forward. She averaged 5.0 points per game as freshman and 4.1 per game as a sophomore.
But last year, she was the Husker’ second-leading scorer with 10.1 points per game. She was also second on the team in rebounds with 5.3 per game and had two assists per game. She was one of the Big Ten’s most improved players, increasing her scoring (plus 6.0) and rebounding (plus 3.0) by impressive margins.
“I think it was for the best,” Simon said of her position change. “I think it really benefited our team."
What allowed the 6-foot-2 Simon to be more productive playing closer to the basket more?
“I think just being able to have a little bit less dribbling and decision making, kind of in the open court, but more where it’s one or two dribbles and she’s at the basket. I just think it’s a good setup with her skill set," Nebraska coach Amy Williams said.
Simon, and the Huskers, got the results that showed the move was the best for her and the team. She missed a few games with injuries; the Huskers had a 20-8 record with her playing and 1-3 without. Nebraska was 12-2 in games Simon scored in double figures.
“We just thought that once she committed and said, ‘OK, this is the best thing for the team,’ and then she just really bought in and threw herself into that, I thought she really thrived last year and was the X factor for our team,” Williams said. “When she played well in that forward position, our team was successful."
Simon feels even better going into this season. She has a better understanding of where on the court she can get good shots from, when to pass to a teammates, and how she can take advantage when she has a size or speed advantage on the player defending her.
“Sometimes I have an advantage with speed, and I can take people from the outside, or sometimes I’m smaller but I think it’s OK because I’m quicker,” Simon said. “And I’ve got stronger and figured out how to guard, and just be more physical with bigger players. Either way, I think I’m at an advantage.”
Simon had a good offseason, Williams said, and looks ready to be one of the team’s leaders.
“She really grew up a lot, even just as a leader and found ways to continue to get better and more confident with field-goal percentage, three-point percentage, her footwork has improved, she’s more fit, she’s defensively a step better,” Williams said. “We feel like she’s had a fantastic offseason and we’re excited for her to have the best year she’s ever had in a Husker uniform.”