After Thursday's practice, Jaaron Simmons sat slightly hunched in a chair, his phone in hand and with eyes gazed ahead.
Simmons, Ohio's starting point guard, was still trying to comprehend the news: Antonio Campbell, Simmons' teammate, friend and roommate, had a broken right foot and a finished college career.
The two know each other well, but following Campbell's injury, Simmons wasn't too talkative.
“He’s good,” Simmons said plainly about the senior forward, and screen-and-roll partner, Campbell. “He’s good.”
Simmons, however, wasn’t good.
@GetBuckets33 Tony you make all of Bobcat Nation proud. Your positive outlook will carry you far in this world. Thanks for sharing with us!!— Gary Phillips (@GPhillips175) January 21, 2017
Starting this past Saturday and moving forward, Simmons is slated to do even more for the Bobcats — a tough task for someone who's already their most influential player.
But it's already shown.
Against Eastern Michigan on Jan. 14 — Campbell’s final game as a Bobcat — Simmons only garnered two points, a season-low. Just three days later, Simmons gashed Akron for 19 points, five assists, four rebounds and a steal in 40 minutes. The Bobcats lost, 83-68.
Simmons never rested. Campbell had to watch from the sidelines with a boot.
Saturday against Northern Illinois, Simmons (again) led the Bobcats in scoring. This time, 21 points on 8-of-14 shooting.
“I just have to be more aggressive, score more and help other people score more,” Simmons said before the Akron game. “That’s the big thing. It’s not just me, it's me putting my teammates in a position to where they can score.”
Originally, Campbell was considered “day-to-day” after initial tests showed no breakage in his right foot, coach Saul Phillips said last Monday. Phillips added that Campbell felt “off” during an early shootaround before Ohio’s loss to Eastern Michigan, but still speculated Campbell would be OK.
But after a second MRI scan of Campbell’s foot showed a breakage early last week, Ohio’s chase for a MAC title is significantly more difficult. Campbell leads the team in points (16.4) and rebounds (8.9).
“I get the sentiment around the league will be ‘there goes Ohio,’ ” Phillips said. “There isn’t a part of me that will let myself or anybody on this team believe that. Our job is to get better and learn to play with the new reality of not having Tony.”
It’s officially the end of the Simmons-Campbell era, a duo that looked to bring Ohio its first conference title since 2012. The two will never play another second together — at least not in Athens.
Together, Simmons and Campbell pulled the Bobcats out of the MAC cellar their first season playing under coach Phillips.
The results were magical in 2015-16: Simmons broke D.J. Cooper’s single-season assist record tallying 275 in 35 game. Campbell became the first Bobcat since 2013 to win MAC Player of the Year after averaging 17 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks per game on 56 percent shooting.
And they still had a full year together.
It all evaporated Thursday evening when news broke that Campbell’s Bobcat career was over. What the duo could’ve achieved officially falls into the “What If?” category of Ohio lore.
“This is one of the worst ways to end my career as a Bobcat,” Campbell said in a statement released on Twitter.
Because Campbell is injured, he is unavailable to give comment until his surgery and physical therapy is complete.
“In this frustrating time, all I can do is say thank you to everyone who has helped me get where I have got today,” Campbell’s statement continued.
For Simmons, he touches the ball more than any other Bobcat — even more than Campbell, who averaged a usage percentage of 30.88 in his final year. Simmons dictates the offense like a general, strategically orchestrating where each Bobcat should or shouldn’t be.
He averages 12 points and seven assists, which is first in the MAC, per game on 40 percent shooting. Simmons’ player efficiency rating is 12.02 this season, according to basketball analytics site, basketball.realgm.com. For context, player efficiency rating is a rating of player’s per-minute productivity, according to ESPN.
ESPN calculates PER by holistically combining the player’s “good qualities” like made field goals, free throws, 3-pointers, assists, rebounds, blocks and steals, and then deducting the player’s “bad qualities” like missed field goals, turnovers and personal fouls to formulate a single number and show how efficient a player is per minute on the court.
A season ago, Simmons’ PER was 17.21. To compare, Toledo’s Jonathan Williams PER is 20.68 as of Sunday. He averages 21 points and three assists per game on 45 percent shooting. Central Michigan’s Marcus Keene, the nation’s leading scorer, has a PER of 27.25 this season.
A dip in PER doesn’t give the whole picture, as Simmons’ overall statistics have dipped his third year because the Bobcats have more options on offense like Jordan Dartis, Gavin Block and Kenny Kaminski.
But now, the redshirt junior from Dayton will have to pace his team against MAC elite without one of his best teammates.
And one of his best friends.
“Ah, man,” Simmons said last week, pausing, reflecting on him and Campbell’s relationship. “That’s my brother.”