Jackson Simmons is a role player. There is no two ways about that. However, his role has expanded significantly throughout this sophomore year and UNC has definitely benefited from his consistent play off the bench—especially after he was un-expectantly needed to fill the gaping holes left by Joel James and J.P. Tokoto’s lack of production. He risen to the challenge.
Now, maybe I’m biased because he’s from Western North Carolina, just like I am. Maybe it’s because he chose a national powerhouse like UNC where he knew his playing time would be miniscule instead of a Davidson or Appalachian State. I do know one thing, though: he made the most of his opportunities this season.
When UNC was struggling mightily around the first part of the season, dropping 5 of their first 15, big-time freshmen recruits Tokoto and James were averaging only 4.9 points between them. Coach Roy Williams decided to go to smaller lineups and Simmons saw his playing time shoot up. He played 234 minutes this season, as opposed to 42 last year. Simmons shot 66% from the field and grabbed just under two rebounds a game.
Now, these may not be monster stats. That’s obvious, but Tar Heel nation needs to look at when Jackson was on the floor and what he was there to do. The 6’7’’, 220 pound, undersized forward would often get paired with James Michael McAdoo when Roy was choosing to go small. Simmons was there to rebound when McAdoo was going for shot blocks and play solid defense.
Jackson Simmons was also instrumental numerous times this season. He shined big time when UNC beat FSU in January by laying up the final go-ahead bucket and snagging four rebounds. Against a tough #9 seed, Villanova, he was subbed in with McAdoo and UNC quickly pushed a four point lead to nine by making three consecutive three pointers with Simmons on the floor. He also iced the game for the Tar Heels my hitting the game’s final free throw to move on to the next round.
Jackson Simmons may not get a lot of shine. He understands that. He understands his role. But people are starting to take notice.