Kobi Simmons ready to represent guards of the past
Arizona guard Kobi Simmons (2) soars up to the basket in the slam dunk contest during the slam dunk contest before the McDonald's Red-Blue game in McKale Center on Friday, Oct. 14. The slam dunk contest was won by fellow freshman Rawle Alkins.
One of the biggest questions surrounding Arizona basketball heading into the 2016-2017 season has been who will be the starting point guard? Arizona head coach Sean Miller said the leaders of this team will be the best players, despite age, experience or class. One of the leaders will be freshman guard Kobi Simmons.
Simmons had already impacted the team before playing a single game in McKale Center in terms of size and just being the player that everyone wants to compete with, considering he was the first recruiting domino to commit to Arizona.
“A lot of people had Arizona in their list and I was the first one to make it," Simmons said. "So after that, [Rawle Alkins] called me and was like, ‘How’d it feel?’ and I was like, ‘I want to play with you, do you want to play with me?’ So that’s what happened next."
The 2016 freshman arguably make for the supreme class in the Miller era with Simmons heavily recruiting players like Alkins and Terrance Ferguson, even though the latter bolted to Australia. Simmons had his hands all over this recruiting class and is ready to get the ball rolling.
Having the reputation of “Point Guard U” creates some pressure, but Simmons is prepared for the challenge.
“It’s a tradition you have to live up to and play for,” Simmons said.
There is talk every year that "this could be the team and the freshman class that takes Miller over the plateau and into the Final Four," but Simmons presents a new dimension to this team that other guards haven’t in the past.
The 6-foot-5 guard from Atlanta is capable of playing both guard positions and adapting to any scenario that will be thrown at him, because not only is he a facilitator, but his improved jump shot will be a factor.
“One of the things that Kobi does really well is that he shoots the ball really consistently,” Miller said. “He’s very adept, very skilled at shooting the ball. Whether he’s at the one or the two, that’s always going to be an asset for us offensively because he can put the ball in the basket and he’s got a pure shot.”
Think about it: In the seven seasons Miller has been at the helm, he’s brought in several point guards and they were all different. From the pure scorers in Momo Jones and Mark Lyons to the defensive maestro in T.J. McConnell, the point guard position has been productive, but not even those guys were the answer for Miller.
Jones, Lyons and McConnell were all 6-foot-2 or shorter, had at least 45-inch verticals and were McDonald’s All-Americans. Believe it or not, there are point guards out there that show pure athleticism while maintaining that floor general status. Simmons is without a doubt the most essential piece, even when Arizona was slated for a 10 or 11 man rotation this season, according to ESPN college basketball analyst Jeff Goodman.
“The biggest key for this team is Kobi Simmons and the point guard position,” Goodman said. “To me, that’s clear as day. ... You’ve got enough good wing players, enough up front. But the key to me—and I’ve seen him a ton—is Kobi Simmons.”
Simmons will compete with a seasoned Parker-Jackson Cartwright and the lone senior Kadeem Allen, but Simmons is a Swiss Army Knife compared those two. Miller said Allen will play more off the ball, so expect him to play shooting guard and leave the door open for either Jackson-Cartwright or Simmons to run the offense.
Goodman is on board with Allen playing shooting guard and said Jackson-Cartwright didn’t execute his chance to seal the deal as the team’s point guard when Allen missed time last season.
“Parker Jackson-Cartwright is solid, but last year, he had his opportunities and didn’t really seize [them]," Goodman said. "Let’s face it: Kadeem Allen is more of a two than a one."
Who would you trust more: a point guard that lacks size, or a big, versatile guard that will attract double-teams to leave the frontcourt players or players like Allonzo Trier, Kadeem Allen or Rawle Alkins open on the perimeter? Can you recall a time where Jackson-Cartwright drew a double-team or attracted defenses to his side of the court?
It’s not Jackson-Cartwright’s fault for lacking height, and he had moments last year where he crafted his way on fast breaks. But even the player that was better off the ball in Allen averaged more assists with 3.6 per game.
It’s clear as day, as Goodman said, that Simmons is the answer for Miller’s squad. His mixture of height, athleticism and ability to put defenders in awkward positions creates more opportunities. The Wildcats will need those opportunities against teams like Oregon, or premiere programs like Duke and Kansas which are favored to reach the Final Four in Phoenix.
On the flip side, Simmons is only a freshman and has to catch up in the weight room, because he’s only 175 pounds, but Miller said the combo guard will play heavy minutes.
“He’s getting stronger everyday that he’s here and there will be an adjustment physically for him like any freshman because he’s thin," Miller said. "But I think he can contribute at both guard spots for sure."
If push comes to shove, both Jackson-Cartwright and Simmons will see action at the same time.
“It’s not an either-or relationship, meaning one is in and the other is out almost like a quarterback in college football where only one can be out there at the same time,” Miller said. “The depth on the perimeter is one of this year’s teams strengths and we have to be able to utilize that and bring that out in our group."
Arizona will have multiple lineup combinations, especially before the Pac-12 Conference schedule begins. But Simmons just might be the answer for Arizona in its quest to University of Phoenix Stadium in April.
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