The Wolverine

December 2017

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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42 THE WOLVERINE DECEMBER 2017 BY JOHN BORTON J aaron Simmons has been to Houston, he's been to Ohio, but he's never been to the NCAA Tournament. That's one big reason he landed in Ann Arbor as a graduate transfer. Simmons insists he's more than just hungry for a bite of the Big Dance. "I'm starving," he said. "Starving." He's certainly used to feeding oth- ers. An All-Mid-American Confer- ence performer the past two seasons at Ohio University, Simmons left there with 475 career assists — fourth on the Bobcats' all-time list. Two years ago, he set the MAC single-season record with 275 assists, dishing out 7.9 per game. Last season, he averaged 15.9 points, 6.5 assists and 3.5 rebounds per contest. Those are some strong numbers, but Sim- mons knows it's what he does from here on out in Crisler Arena and sur- rounding Big Ten venues that counts. He's in a fierce battle for the starting point guard spot, his head swimming at times with the complexities of John Beilein's offense. There's no backing down, especially where Simmons hopes to head. That means the learning train has been smoking down the tracks in re- cent weeks, according to one who has been riding it as well. New guards coach DeAndre Hayes recognizes the sort of challenge Simmons embraced in coming to Ann Arbor. "He's a leader. He's a bulldog," Haynes said. "He's a guy who can get in the paint and score. He can create. He's just a winner. Everywhere he's been, he's been a leader. He knows how to run teams, so we can be suc- cessful. "Right now, he's starting off slow. Once he learns and picks up the of- fense more, you're going to see a dif- ferent him. I've seen him take over games. It's not bothering me. I keep telling Coach [John Beilein], 'He's go- ing to be okay.'" EARNING THE MINUTES Simmons didn't start in Michigan's exhibition game against Grand Valley State Nov. 3. That privilege went to sophomore Zavier Simpson, who has the advantage of a year in Beilein's system. Simmons came off the bench to score five points in 15 minutes of ac- tion, connect on his only three-point attempt and dish out three assists. The graduate transfer knows he has a ways to go, but demonstrates unwav- ering confidence. "It's definitely complex, but it works," Simmons said of Michigan's offense. "You've got to dive into it and take it head on. That's why I came here, to learn, to become a better player and a better person. "I'm understanding it more and more, each and every day. I'm more and more comfortable. My teammates are helping me out all the time, Coach is helping me out all the time. Every day is getting easier and easier." At his core, Simmons expects to succeed. "I'm a point guard," he said. "I can play at any level. I can run a team at any level. I can pass the ball and score the ball any time I need to. "I can make plays for myself and for my teammates." Those plays need to be made with slightly more elevation and exten- sion in the Big Ten, Beilein observed. That's the biggest difference from the MAC, and Simmons himself admitted he's adjusting to the size changes, at his own listed height of 6-1. "The MAC is a pretty strong league, as you know," Beilein observed. "But maybe the length and the size of peo- ple is something he's adjusting to. I'm talking about people in the gaps. It might just be one inch or two, but it can really make a difference, whether the center is 6-8 or 6-9, or 6-10 or 6-11. "The wing is 6-6 or 6-7. He just keeps working on it every day, and he's right in the hunt right now." Luke Yaklich, Michigan's assistant coach assigned to honing the Wol- verines' defense to a sharper point, backed the notion that Simmons is fully on board with the crash course. "He's a great learner," Yaklich said. "Jaaron wants to learn every day. He's asking questions, he's inquisi- tive about how to become a good de- fender, he takes constructive criticism really well, and he's good at adjusting on the fly. "The process of becoming a great defensive team is slow, it's tedious, and it's daily. There are no steps that can be skipped in that process. Jaaron is a microcosm of what we want to be — come to practice ready to learn every day, understand what you don't know, be willing to accept that and then grow." Simmons has been an effective scorer in the past, but Beilein took it upon himself to adjust the newcom- er 's shooting form. That's nothing new for Michigan's head coach, and Simmons assured he was totally open to it. He came to absorb all he could and get better, Simmons said. That re- mained in process, entering his final season of college basketball. "It's not really hard when you want to do it," Simmons said. "When we talked before I came here, he told me he was going to help me out with some of my shooting techniques and mechanics. That's what he's done for me. It's getting better and better. "We've worked on my footwork, shot preparation, my hand placement. Being able to catch and shoot faster, at a quicker pace. I'm definitely feel- ing comfortable. I try to put in a lot of work, a lot of hours, a lot of extra shots. I like what he's doing with me." A WELL-CONSIDERED DESTINATION Asked why Michigan, Simmons as- sumed the look of a man caught in a riptide and questioned as to whether he'd appreciate a life preserver. GUARDING A DREAM Jaaron Simmons Is Seeking College Basketball's Promised Land Simmons was a first-team All-MAC selec- tion last year at Ohio, after averaging 15.9 points and 6.5 assists per game, and a sec- ond-team choice the year prior. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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