When freshman Jasmine Simmons first arrived at Oregon State, many of her new women’s basketball teammates told her she would have a hard time getting a word out of fellow teammate Joanna Grymek.

Simmons accepted the challenge.

“I was like all right guys, give me a week,” she said.

While nearly everyone went home for a couple final weeks of summer vacation, Simmons, from Australia, and Grymek, from Poland, remained on campus.

And they quickly developed a bond.

That’s when Simmons saw the drive and desire Grymek, a senior, had to make an impact in her second and final season with the Beavers.

Nearly every day, Grymek would knock on Simmons' door and ask her to go on a run together, shoot some baskets or whatever else she thought would help her be in a position to make a bigger impact this season.

“It was kind of inspiring to me to see her want to get better every day because it was something I didn’t know was in her," Simmons said Wednesday afternoon. "But she’s always putting in extra work. I think it’s really great that she’s taking initiative, especially because she’s a senior now so she wants to step up and kind of bring us along with her.”

Having a new teammate around helped keep Grymek focused.

"It was really fun to have someone to work out with so we can actually enjoy it and not be by myself and going through everything by myself," she said.

Grymek admits adjusting to the level of competition she now sees at Oregon State has been difficult for the 6-foot-8 center, who was a standout at Seward County Community College in Kansas, where she became the No. 2-rated junior college player her sophomore season.

“It was tough but right now I’m still kind of adjusting and it’s getting better,” she said. “I see the progress I made from last year to this year.”

Grymek has made two starts and is averaging 5.8 points and 4.6 rebounds per game in a little over 17 minutes of action.

“A year ago when we coached Jo it was almost like she wasn’t hearing you because she was so overwhelmed and this year it’s completely different,” coach Scott Rueck said just prior to the season. “She’s looking at you, trying to get every word from you. And then you’re seeing it applied to the game once she learns.

“I’ve been really pleased with her progress and I think, again, it’s going to be one of those things where it’s step by step with her as anyone who is getting significant time really for the first time.”

She played just 9.1 minutes a game last year in part because she was behind Marie Gulich, a first-round pick in the WNBA draft last April.

“A year ago she was so overwhelmed, it felt, by everything,” Rueck said. “Just living here, getting adjusted to school, this pace of play, the physicality and trying to stay with Marie every day.

“That’s a lot to overcome for someone in her first year. And she has high expectations of herself so also had the pressure of that she loaded on to herself.”

Grymek credits Gulich for teaching her a lot about the center position.

“I feel like playing against Marie gave me so much more confidence,” she said. “Just observing how she plays, it was just great for me to get that to my game and be more confident in the post and just in (my) defense.”

While she may have initially felt pressure to fill Gulich’s shoes, Rueck told her not to be concerned about trying to replace Gulich but to be the “best Jo you can be.”

Like most athletes, the soft-spoken Grymek is tough on herself and her performance. She wants to continue to get better and may at times feel like she isn’t playing at the level she wants or needs to, in her opinion.

“I feel like most athletes are more hard on themselves than anyone else, but Jo’s extremely hard on herself,” Simmons said. “But she’s doing way better than what she thinks she is or what she gives herself recognition for.”

Sophomore point guard Aleah Goodman, who has mostly been on the same team as Grymek in practices the past year and a half, has developed quite an on-court chemistry with her and has seen the growth that has taken place in her game.

“Everything she does is just with more confidence,” Goodman said of Grymek’s performance this season. “You can just tell by how she plays, how she holds herself. Everything is just, hey, I know what I’m doing, I’ve got this.”

Grymek said the game has definitely slowed down for her and she is able to react and respond better this season.

“When I first got here it was so much faster and so physical,” she said. “Right now it’s slowing down and I’m actually getting more physical so it’s really fun to play.”

While Grymek may not be at the level she wants, there’s no doubt she’s putting in the work day in and day out.

“The growth that I’ve seen from summer until now has just been phenomenal,” Simmons said. “I don’t think you can really put into words how much she’s grown, not only on the basketball court but as a person as well.”

With the Beavers open a grueling 18-game Pac-12 schedule on Friday against Washington State, her teammates know how valuable Grymek could be in their run to a possible conference title.

“She’s a huge part of this team and brings a big presence down low on offense and defense,” Goodman said. “She has a really big impact on both sides of the floor because she can get really good position in the offensive end and she’s developing the skill of blocked shots and disrupts shots. That’s huge for us as well.”

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Sports Editor

Sports editor of the Corvallis Gazette-Times and Albany Democrat-Herald