Jackson Simmons is willing to pay to play at North Carolina

Jeff Eisenberg

Instead of snapping up one of the mid-major scholarship offers he already received or waiting for a bigger program to extend an offer, Jackson Simmons decided he'd sacrifice all that for the chance to play at college basketball's highest level.

The 6-foot-7 forward from Sylva, N.C. accepted an invitation from North Carolina coach Roy Williams on Tuesday to walk onto the Tar Heels program. Williams told Simmons he will have a chance to earn a scholarship and extended playing time at North Carolina, but only if the high school senior-to-be plays well enough to warrant it.

"Jackson couldn't be more excited, more determined or more focused than he is right now," his father, Si Simmons, said by phone. "Everybody's in the same boat when you arrive on campus August 1 and everyone has to perform to get on the court. Jackson has never shied away from a challenge and he's always felt he can match his skills with anybody, and what better place to do that than North Carolina."

A versatile, hard-working forward on a star-studded North Carolina-based AAU program, Simmons caught the attention of coaches on the summer circuit this year with his passing, rebounding and work ethic. He had scholarship offers from Charlotte, Appalachian State, Old Dominion and Richmond among others and had been receiving interest from the likes of Clemson and Wake Forest.

Although Williams hadn't recruited Simmons nearly as hard as some of his coaching peers, he stayed in contact with the family enough that they felt they could trust him when he finally showed interest. Simmons and his family deliberated for a few days before warming to the idea of enrolling at North Carolina in fall 2011 as an invited walk-on.

"I told him, 'Do what your heart says. Do what's best for you,'" said Ty White Sr., Simmons' AAU coach with Team Loaded. "He's the type of kid that will find a way to be successful with his work ethic. There's no question he'll embrace this challenge."

The financial burden will obviously be heavier on Simmons' parents than it would have been had he accepted a full scholarship elsewhere, but Si Simmons said the family is prepared to shoulder that load.

"Jackson's passion for basketball has never been in pursuit of a college scholarship," Si Simmons said. "Like any parents, we just want to be able to afford Jackson any opportunity that he wants. If this is the direction he wants to go, then we're prepared to help him reach his goals."