UNC sophomore Jackson Simmons got his first double digit minutes in a single game against the Florida State Seminoles. This was not only the most for the season but also the most minutes he’s played in a game in his 2 seasons at UNC. With roughly 4 minuets left in the game the Heels were down by 3, 69-72. Who was playing down low for the Heels? Was it highly regarded NBA prospect James Michael McAdoo? No. Was it defensive specialist Desmond Hubert? Nah. How about other highly recruited freshmen Brice Johnson or Joel James? Nope. Roy Williams put his trust in Simmons.
Simmons played at Smokey Mountain High School where he averaged 19 points and 12.5 rebounds per game. Compared to the McDonalds All-Americans sitting on the bench at crunch time against Florida State, what did Williams see? Was he trying to prove something to the likes of McAdoo and Johnson? I think he was trying to send the message, “Since McAdoo, Johnson, James and Hubert do not want to push each other to get better as the season goes goes on, I’ll give someone else a chance to earn a spot in the lineup such as the hard-working Simmons.”
Simmons proved that he is more than a guy that Williams can send into the game during a blowout. He finished the game with 4 rebounds (all offensive) and 8 points. His points included the go-ahead put-back off a Reggie Bullock miss with 3:11 left in the game. It was not just a “right place at the right time” situation either. Simmons provided a solid box out and got inside position against his defender. This allowed him to get to the other side of the basket where no one was standing but him. Easy 2 points because of the hard work prior.
This performance with the lack of performance of UNC’s other post players will provide Simmons with more playing time. Simmons plays fundamental basketball unlike some of his counterparts. Fundamentals is what UNC needs to focus on throughout the remainder of the season. I am not inserting Simmons into the starting lineup just yet but he should definitely see more playing time. A crucial question that Williams has to be considering is, “Who can I trust to hit free throws in close games?” This had to have played a factor in the Florida State game. McAdoo shoots 62%, James 56%, Johnson 46% and Hubert a low 23%. Simmons is a perfect 6-6 on the season and 1 of only 2 Tar Heels who have not missed one from the charity stripe all season (Luke Davis.)