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Coach Saul Phillips calls from the bench during a game against Western Michigan in the The Convo on Jan. 19.

Men's Basketball: Ohio's house of guards

On the first day of practice at the Convo, every member of press row was focused on the same question.

The Bobcats need a point guard. They didn’t think they would. Then Jaaron Simmons transferred to Michigan. 

Who’s bringing the ball up the court? 

The point guard is nearly every team’s catalyst, but it was the overwhelming force behind the Ohio offense last season. 

Simmons led the Bobcats in scoring and assists last season. Overall, he accounted for 26.3 percent of the team’s possessions that ended in a shot, assist or turnover. 

How will they replace him? What can coach Saul Phillips do to replicate all that production?

Well, for starters, he’s going to spread out the workload. 

“Maybe Jason (Carter) is the guy that’s setting someone else up at the end of the play,” Phillips said. “Or Gavin (Block) or Jordy (Dartis) or Mike (Laster) or (Teyvion Kirk) or Zach (Butler). But It could be coming from any different position now.”

On some possessions during practice Sunday, it was one of the two freshman point guards (Kirk and Butler) orchestrating the offense. On others, it was Block, Dartis or Laster dribbling up the court and making the first pass. 

And yes, Jason Carter was making plays for others out of the post. But even then, someone else has to make the entry pass inside. 

Block, Dartis, Laster, Kirk or Butler won’t tell you whether the open starting spot crosses their mind on the court, but the proof is in the intensity at practice. 

“It’s a battle, man,” Dartis said. “We’re competing and going hard. We’re practicing every day and trying to make each other better.”

Finding a starter at point guard will be a patient process. If one of the freshmen wins the job, he will be playing against Division I talent for the first time. 

If the primary ball handler comes from the incumbent camp, he will be used to playing every possession off of a teammate.

Either way, the learning curve will be considerable. But regardless of who wins the job, his duties will be different from Simmons’ last year, at least to start the season.  

Carter said Ohio will run less pick and roll. Phillips said the point guard’s usage rate (that 26.3 number) will drop. 

But that doesn’t mean it can’t go back up. 

“Pretty much everybody I’ve ever coached has grown into ‘Ok, now you can be used every time down the court,”’ Phillips said.  

Based on Phillips’ track record, it seems like there will eventually be one primary facilitator of the offense. But that’s much further down the road. 

For now, the Bobcats will dispense the ball handling duties more evenly across their backcourt. Phillips said he doesn’t want his players worrying as much about who starts and who comes off the bench. He even mentioned having two primary ball handlers on the floor together at times. 

But he will eventually have to choose from his crop of guards. The Bobcats do still need a point guard. 

Fortunately for Phillips, that decision doesn’t have to come today.

“Guess what I don’t have all the answers yet,” Phillips said. “I didn’t expect to come into today having it all figured out.”


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