Since graduating from Eastern Mennonite University in 2015 with a degree in computer science, R.J. Sims has played basketball in Lithuania and France.

EMU grad Sims finds home on court overseas

Wherever basketball takes R.J. Sims, he’s always asked a few of the same questions.

“People that see me now ask what school I went to, and when I say EMU they’re like, ‘Where’s EMU?” Sims said with a smile. “And then they’re like, ‘Why did you go there?’ I tell them EMU is the only school that wanted me.”

A former hoops standout at Eastern Mennonite University, Sims averaged double figures in scoring as a sophomore, junior and senior with the Royals. He was an All-Old Dominion Athletic Conference team choice twice before graduating after the 2013-14 season.

Now, Sims is coming off his second season as a professional. He played his first in Lithuania for Palanga and this past season in France for Union Tarbes Lourdes.

“Over the last six, eight years, we’ve had some talented kids here, and he’s not the most talented that we’ve had,” EMU coach Kirby Dean said. “But he’s the one that wanted it the most.

“He wanted to play. He wanted to continue his career.”

The biggest problem facing Sims was that he played at a Division III school and professional scouts usually don’t pack Yoder Arena or clamor to get up-close look at ODAC talent.

Sims had to take initiative on his own.

And the process was likely going to take time with the end game of signing a pro contract, so while he started training as soon as his time at EMU was up, he also got a day job.

He moved to Alexandria where he worked for Oblon – one of the biggest law firms in the United States.

“I set a goal that I was going to go overseas within a year,” Sims said. “After working during the day, I’d go to the gym from 7 [p.m.] to 9, and then after that I’d go lift from 10 to 12 and wake up and do it all over again. And on the weekend I’d do two or three workouts a day.”

Sims also began networking online. He said most of the European clubs use Facebook to get in touch with foreign-born prospects.

“We didn’t have some contact overseas to get him a place to play,” Dean said. “We contributed two things — we did help develop him as a player because our system does that since he always had a ball in his hand. And then [EMU assistant coach] Melvin Felix put together a highlight film that [Sims] could send to people. That’s it.

“Everything else was him going and getting his name out there. He doesn’t have an agent. He did it all on his own.”

Through social media, Sims found a Lithuanian scout that knew of a team that needed a small forward.

“Two days later I had a plane ticket to go there,” Sims said.

The toughest part about leaving was telling his family. He said he has great relationships with his mother, grandparents and siblings who all live in Bowie, Md.

But he was happy he achieved his goal of signing contract, so he went without hesitation, Sims said.

 He averaged 13.4 points per game in Lithuania, which helped him jump from Palanga to Union Tarbes Lourdes in France.

With Union Tarbes Lourdes, he averaged 12 points per game.

“Lithuania was more different,” Sims said. “The people were different. Honestly, I kind of feel like I was more of an outsider there just because it was such a different lifestyle.

“But I don’t think France was necessarily a culture shock, but cars over there were manual so I had to take driver’s lessons to get it. It was different as far as living there, going shopping and picking out food – everything is in French. But they also gave me French lessons. I learned a little bit of French, so it helped me while I was there.”

Sims said the on-court play was similar to what he did at EMU under Dean in France.

“It was fast-paced with athletic guards and bigs, but while I was in Lithuania, it was structured with spacing and there were a lot of plays,” Sims said. “The style just varies by country.”

Sims said he is still trying to decide what team in what country to play for next season, but regardless of where he goes, he knows exactly what he’ll be asked by his teammates, coaches and even the fans.

“I kind of put EMU on the map,” Sims said. “And I’m happy I went there.”

Republished with permission from the July 5, 2017, issue of the Daily News-Record

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