Everything seems to revolve around Jaaron Simmons, at least in Athens.
Since Antonio Campbell hobbled off the court for a final time in mid-January, it’s been Simmons driving the Bobcats forward, steering for the Mid-American Conference championship Campbell couldn’t bring.
But Simmons can.
While the Bobcats are an even 7-7 without Campbell, Simmons has kept them afloat, either forcing wins by any means or playing the part as the puppeteer’s hands, influencing every offensive possession.
There’s brilliance in his passes, his shot selections and his motivation to lead his team that’s unparalleled in the MAC.
Sure, there are better teams than Ohio, and statistics show there are better players than Simmons, too.
Central Michigan’s Marcus Keene, who’s averaging 29.4 points per game, could be the first college basketball player to average 30 points per game since 1997. It’s an accomplishment the MAC should marvel.
But there’s no player more valuable to his team within the conference than Simmons, who should be the most valuable player. Coaches hate to plan around him. Teams hate to guard him.
When Simmons — who’s averaging 18.9 points, 6.1 assists and 37.4 minutes since Campbell broke his foot — plays well, generally Ohio plays well. The 18.9 points per game is more than Campbell’s 16.4 points per game.
Which makes it all the more insignificant when Keith Dambrot, Akron’s coach, threw a tantrum in a postgame press conference about Simmons being overrated. Akron had just lost to Kent State, making Dambrot’s remarks all the more cynical.
The next day, Bowling Green coach Michael Huger called Simmons the best player in the MAC. Moments later, coach Saul Phillips called him one of the nation’s top point guards.
But here’s the reality Dambrot actively ignores:
If there was a hypothetical draft, there’s not one player a MAC coach would select over Simmons. (OK, maybe John Cooper would at Miami, but when you’re the conference’s worst team and attendance is below 1,500, Keene’s theatrics might put more butts in seats.)
What makes Phillips so lucky at Ohio, though, is Simmons chose him. Simmons, a redshirt junior, transferred from Houston after his freshman season. He scored 65 points as a Cougar. Against Miami last week he scored his 1,000th point.
Winning a MAC title this year — Ohio’s first since 2012 — would be a massive achievement, especially given the circumstances. But winning isn’t an absolute must.
Since Phillips arrived in Athens, he’s indicated success comes in the longterm. But short term wins are nice, too.
Simmons is the longterm. He’s the point guard who creates magic from even the bleakest of situations. MAC coaches know that.
Ohio plays Miami on Friday, then will play in Cleveland next week. Judging by Simmons’ demeanor all season, there’s more to come from the conference’s best player. Period.
Hopefully, Dambrot thinks about that a few times in the oncoming week.