Nothing against Ohio University, but Jaaron Simmons needed to make another move.
“I really didn’t want to leave OU,” reflected the Alter High School grad and senior graduate transfer for the University of Michigan men’s basketball team this past season. “It was a personal decision to challenge myself and learn more about the game in a different view. I learned a lot of new terminology and a different way the game is played.”
Simmons, a 6-foot-1, record-setting guard at OU, hit the Powerball jackpot at the Ann Arbor campus. Relegated to unfamiliar backup status, he had a career-defining ride as Michigan advanced to a national championship. Villanova won its second title in three seasons on Monday, taking the Wolverines out 79-62 at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas.
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Simmons left Athens by taking advantage of the relatively recent NCAA rule that allows graduates who have eligibility remaining to transfer and immediately be eligible to participate in a sport. Initiated in 2011, that’s become an increasingly popular move, although NCAA data reveals less than one-half of one percent of all Division I student-athletes do so.
He earned his undergraduate degree at OU last year in Specialized Studies. He’s pursuing a master’s degree in Social Work at Michigan.
Simmons’ switch from OU to Michigan was similar to the move made by Thurgood Marshall grad Mark Alstork. He left after two outstanding seasons at Wright State to play at Illinois this past season also as a graduate transfer.
Simmons’ appearance with Michigan in the national title game matched that of Fairmont grad Kathryn Westbeld. She capped her career at Notre Dame with a defeat of Mississippi State to win the women’s national basketball championship at Columbus on Sunday.
Mostly a point guard, Simmons initially played for a season at Houston, then transferred to OU. He had two record-setting seasons with the Bobcats and was first team All-Mid-American Conference as a sophomore and junior after sitting out the required transfer year.
He set an Ohio and MAC single-season record with 275 assists in the 2015-16 season. Had he stayed at OU and continued to deliver like that, he would have set all-time career assist marks.
Those were the kinds of numbers envisioned for him when he left Alter. As a senior in former coach Joe Petrocelli’s final season, Simmons led the streaking Knights to the Division II state final four in 2013. When he was done he owned most significant Alter single-season and career scoring records, no small feat at the renowned football and basketball program that’s anchored on East David Road in Kettering.
But that high-scoring and assist-minded effectiveness evolved into a new role with the Wolverines.
“It was definitely an adjustment, because that’s not really what I was expecting going in,” he admitted. “Whatever coach (John Beilein) wanted for the team, I was willing to do it. It worked out. You can’t really have a sour attitude about it or about anything, especially when you’re winning games.”
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He averaged about eight minutes of playing time and was part of a three-guard rotation for Michigan (33-8).
It was that notoriety at OU – and a grateful backup role at Michigan – that Simmons is counting on to help him reach the next level. He said he’ll soon sign with an agent and hopes to sign with an NBA team as a free agent. If that doesn’t work out, there’s always overseas ball.
“I know what I can do,” he said. “People know what I can do.”