ARIZONA BASKETBALL

After role at Arizona vanished, Kobi Simmons ready to build NBA Draft stock

May 29, 2017, 1:25 PM | Updated: May 30, 2017, 11:28 am
Kobi Simmons, from Arizona, participates in the NBA draft basketball combine Friday, May 12, 2017, ...

Kobi Simmons, from Arizona, participates in the NBA draft basketball combine Friday, May 12, 2017, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
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PHOENIX — Some prospects at the Phoenix Suns’ first NBA Draft workout Monday came in with a lot of momentum. Villanova’s Josh Hart and Baylor’s Johnathan Motley were All-Americans who averaged over 17 points per game in college, and Utah’s Kyle Kuzma had a terrific showing at the NBA Draft Combine.

Former Arizona guard Kobi Simmons is the opposite. He’s fighting for anything resembling an upward trend before June 22.

Simmons posted 8.7 points, 1.6 rebounds and two assists per game in his lone season for the Wildcats. Once Allonzo Trier returned to the team from suspension and head coach Sean Miller tightened up his rotations for March, Simmons’ playing time plummeted in last nine games of the season.

As a nearly 6-foot-5 guard with loads of athleticism that had him on NBA radars coming into his first season in Tucson, Simmons had a brutal decision on whether or not to come back to school or go to the draft — even as a prospect projected in the range of the second round to undrafted.

Trier and freshman Rawle Alkins returned to school after testing the waters for the NBA Draft. On top of that, the team also added three ESPN top 100 perimeter recruits in Alex Barcello, Brandon Randolph and Emmanuel Akot. That’s not to mention likely starting point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright entering his senior season and guard transfer Dylan Smith eligible after sitting out the last season.

Some might see Simmons’ decision from the viewpoint of the guard leaving a potential NCAA Championship run on the table.

From Simmons’s perspective, he was potentially looking at less than the 23.5 minutes per game he got in his freshman season. He said his thought process did not revolve around the possibility of re-joining a stacked team and returning with Trier and Akins.

“Not really,”  Simmons said after the draft workout Monday. “I gotta focus on the goal ahead of me.”

Simmons is beyond ready to move on from his vanishing role on the Wildcats.

“I don’t think about that,” Simmons said. “That’s behind me.”

When asked if he considered transferring and sitting out a year before he played, it was not surprising to hear Simmons emphatically reject the notion.

“No,” Simmons said. “Nope, it was either here or going back to school. No transfer.”

If Simmons were to transfer and have a standout sophomore season with more playing time, he would have been less than a month away from his 22nd birthday on draft night in 2019.

At 19 years old, Simmons instead enters the 2017 draft clinging to his potential as a moldable floor general.

A player Simmons can relate to is Philadelphia 76ers starting point guard and former Wildcat T.J. McConnell. While McConnell did start for Arizona and didn’t play off-ball like Simmons, he didn’t get to show much of his pick-and-roll savvy in Miller’s motion-heavy system.

Leading the offense is what Simmons wants to prove leading up to June 22.

“Seeing the floor, I can play well off the pick-and-roll,” Simmons said.  “Team is relying on me. Being a vocal leader.”

Like McConnell, Simmons did get a chance to do that at the NBA Draft Combine.

“I got great feedback from there,” Simmons said. “I did play point there so I think that was a really good start for me.”

Simmons is a prime example of why the NCAA’s rule of transfers having to sit out a year can be so dangerous for NBA prospects.

If Simmons were to transfer, play immediately and do well running a team, it’s not difficult to envision him on the first-round bubble as a prospect. The extra year, though, would make Simmons nearly as old as some seniors in his class despite coming out after a sophomore year in that scenario.

Instead, he had a tough decision with his playing time in doubt for next season. This reflected in Simmons’ answer when asked if he was planning on being a one-and-done player at Arizona.

“I was actually leaning towards going back a little bit,” Simmons said. “Me going back, I was definitely going to do it after my sophomore season along with my teammates.”

Now, Simmons will have to seriously impress a team in workouts such as the Suns to get drafted, and even then, making an NBA roster is a large task for second-round selections. He will have to continue that forward momentum into the NBA Summer League in July.

With that in mind, Simmons was a fan of his choice to leave Arizona, despite the risk.

“It’s a great decision for me,” Simmons said.

“It was really tough. I love my time at Arizona.”

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After role at Arizona vanished, Kobi Simmons ready to build NBA Draft stock