Jaaron Simmons never expected his college career to unfold the way it has.
And he certainly never expected to become the first graduate transfer to join Michigan during John Beilein’s tenure.
But after Simmons, 22, was granted his release from Ohio University following a stellar senior year and tested the NBA draft waters during the offseason, he was looking for a better opportunity.
That’s when Beilein, who was looking to add experience in the backcourt after Derrick Walton Jr.’s departure, came knocking and Simmons answered, picking the Wolverines over Dayton, Kansas and Ohio State in late April for the third and final stop of his college career.
“I have dreams and I feel like moving up a level and coming to Michigan would be the best for me,” Simmons said last week.
Coming out of Archbishop Alter High in Kettering, Ohio, receiving an offer from Michigan would’ve been a dream back then. Yet as a three-star prospect ranked the No. 74 point guard in the nation by 247Sports, Michigan never was realistically on Simmons’ radar.
Simmons, a Dayton, Ohio native, chose to go to the University of Houston in the American Athletic Conference, where he appeared in 32 games as a true freshman and averaged two points and 1.2 assists in 11 minutes. He never eclipsed five assists or scored in double figures in a game with the Cougars.
However, being so far away from his support system wore on Simmons.
“Actually it went pretty well. I left because I was a young kid and had to grow up real fast,” Simmons said. “I was 17 hours, 18 hours away from home (by car). I never really got to go home and visit my family during tough times when I was going through a tough stretch.
“You’re so used to playing so much coming out of high school that when it changed, it’s an adjustment time. Sometimes you need people to lean on and my lean-on was over the phone instead of being able to drive a couple hours and see my people or they come see me. It was just a little different.”
Following his freshman year, Simmons (6-foot-1, 185 pounds) made the decision to transfer closer to home where he’d be more comfortable and found a landing spot in the Mid-American Conference at Ohio.
Due to NCAA transfer rules, he had to sit out the entire 2014-15 season, which would be a tough pill to swallow and a difficult decision for some players to make. Not for Simmons.
“Actually, it wasn’t that hard,” he said. “I knew I had a lot of stuff to work on so I took it the right way from the beginning. I knew what to expect going into it.”
Simmons used his time on the sidelines to mature, develop physically and watch intently from a different point of view, which helped the game slow down for him and eventually paid off in the long run.
In his first season as a starter at Ohio, Simmons put himself on the map and earned All-MAC second team honors after averaging 15.5 points and 7.9 assists in 36.5 minutes over 35 games. He recorded seven double-doubles, 26 games with at least 10 points, and posted career highs in field-goal percentage (46.5 percent), 3-point shooting (41 percent), free-throw shooting (77.9 percent).
Simmons continued to excel last year in coach Saul Phillips’ system, leading the Bobcats to their second straight season with at least 20 wins and a No. 2 seed in the MAC tournament. He averaged 15.9 points and 6.5 assists in 31 games, including nine games with at least 21 points, and received first-team All-MAC first team and MAC All-Tournament accolades.
During his time at Ohio, the Bobcats scrimmaged several major teams and Simmons held his own, giving him confidence that he’ll be able to get the job done against tougher competition in the Big Ten.
“My coach (Phillips) helped me grow, he helped me learn and my teammates, he put good pieces around me,” Simmons said. “We were on the same page and able to work together and do some great things.
“I was just put in a lot ball-screen situations and that’s really what helped me flourish.”
Simmons was widely considered a preseason frontrunner to earn MAC MVP honors before he opted to leave Ohio. He added there was nothing that made him want to leave the program and it was simply “a decision for my future.”
When word trickled out, Beilein contacted Simmons directly, kept in constant contact while he tested his draft stock, and made it known adding a grad transfer into the mix was unprecedented during his 10 years at Michigan.
After Simmons withdrew his name from draft consideration, he was enticed by Michigan’s staff, the chance to make a run in the NCAA Tournament and Beilein’s offense, which utilizes high ball screens much like Ohio.
In the end, the intrigue was too much for Simmons to resist.
He arrived on Michigan’s campus roughly a month ago and has been met with open arms, particularly by fellow point guards Xavier Simpson and Eli Brooks.
Yet Beilein has said the starting role won’t just be handed to Simmons because of his accomplished resume. It will still have to be earned among the trio.
“There’s nothing to give,” said Simmons, who has been working on his shot prep footwork since setting foot in Ann Arbor. “Everybody has got to come in, do their part and we all just want to win and at the end of the day that’s most important.
“There’s no ill will toward anybody. We’re a team, we’re going to work together, we workout together, we’re going to get better together and we’re going to win together. When we’re on the court and whoever is on the court at the time, we’re going to do the best we can do.”
As Simmons gears up for the last stop on his scenic path — one that has taken him from the AAC to the MAC to the Big Ten — he’ll finally get his shot to play on a bigger stage that he’s been searching for.
“It’s just my journey and I wouldn’t trade one moment of it for anything. I wouldn’t wish that I stayed at one school longer,” Simmons said. “I’m taking it day by day and I appreciate every opportunity that’s come my way.
“It’s just a blessing. … I’m looking forward to ending at a spot like this and I’m just looking to make the most of it.”
Get to know Jaaron Simmons
Position: Point guard
Height/weight: 6-foot-1, 185 pounds
Hometown: Dayton, Ohio
At Houston: Simmons played in 32 games as a true freshman, averaging two points and 1.2 assists in 11 minutes off the bench. He scored a season-high nine points against Connecticut and recorded at least five assists twice — against South Florida and Louisville.
At Ohio: After sitting out the 2014-15 season due to transfer rules, Simmons averaged 15.7 points and 7.2 assists in 66 games. He scored at least 20 points in 20 games and dished out at least 10 assists 10 times. He led the Bobcats to back-to-back seasons with at least 20 wins and earned All-MAC honors the past two seasons.