Daisha Simmons cuts to the basket, the blue bottoms of her sneakers squeaking as she slides into position at a recent practice at Seton Hall. She knows where she wants to go.
Now a starting guard for the university in South Orange, New Jersey, she is finally where she wanted to be. But it's the last place the University of Alabama wanted to see their second leading scorer.
Simmons averaged 13.8 points per game last season, and led the Crimson Tide in assists and steals. She was a crucial part of the program and Kristy Curry’s coaching staff didn’t want to let her go.
"To have something almost taken away from you, not because of an injury but because someone said, 'I’m not going to allow you to play,' it motivates me every day," said Simmons.
But there was another motivating force tugging her away from Tuscaloosa.
Her brother Chaz is waiting for a kidney transplant back home in Jersey City. He suffers from a life-threatening kidney disease, and requires regular hospital visits for dialysis that leave him so sore and exhausted that he needs help getting dressed.
Their mother, Christena Simmons, has done her best to juggle taking her son into treatment while working two jobs. And she’s battling an illness herself.
"Some days are bad," she admitted, preferring not to disclose what medical condition she is battling.
"Just watching her work two or three jobs really motivated me," said Daisha Simmons. "If she can do that, I can come out here and battle in school and workouts and basketball."
But first, she’d have to battle the University of Alabama.
Last spring, Daisha crafted a plan that seemed perfect. Having met her undergrad requirements, she wanted to pursue a masters degree in sports management. But the program she needed was not offered by Alabama; instead, she was granted permission to explore colleges closer to home. And with a sixth year of eligibility granted by the NCAA, Seton Hall seemed to be a good match.
All she needed was a waiver from Alabama, granting her permission to transfer. But when she sat down with her coaches to explain her request, she soon realized this would be a difficult process. For starters, one of the assistant coaches suggested she was wasting her time chasing a masters degree.
"We were sitting in the office, after I told them I’d like my release, and they were trying to get me to change my mind and stuff," recalled Simmons. "And he was just like, 'I have my masters and I don’t use it – you don’t need your masters, why do you want to get your masters?'"
It was a stunning, if not desperate, play to keep a player who was obviously a crucial part of the Crimson Tide roster. And shortly after, Alabama refused to grant her the waiver she needed to transfer.
The Simmons were resigned to watching Daisha return and play out her final year of eligibility from halfway across the country. Even though her help was needed back in New Jersey, they would make do.
But Daisha Simmons wasn’t having it. And neither were some of college basketball’s biggest names. Jay Bilas called the Crimson Tide’s stance "petty" and Dick Vitale said the coach and athletics director were "embarrassing Alabama."
Eventually, Alabama relented. In October, Daisha Simmons was free to play her final collegiate season this year at Seton Hall. Her new head coach, Tony Bozzella, said he has never seen anything like this fight in his two decades of coaching.
"I think Alabama became aware of the severity of the issue and ultimately did the right thing," Bozzella.
When asked for comment, a spokesperson for the University of Alabama directed NBC 4 New York to a statement from Athletics Director Bill Battle. It was the same statement he issued on Oct. 7, when Battle said: "The University of Alabama emphatically supports head coach Kristy Curry and her staff. Throughout this process they have maintained a high level of integrity and ethical behavior."