Tuesday January 19th, 2016

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — There is a glut of talented point guards in the class of 2016. And Arizona beat out a number of high-profile programs to land one of them, Kobi Simmons, on Saturday, when he announced his verbal commitment at the Hoophall Classic. In a televised ceremony at halftime of a game on Saturday night between Athlete (Ontario, Canada) Institute and Findlay (Nev.) Prep, Simmons slipped on a blue-and-red Wildcats cap. “I just feel like that’s where home is,” Simmons said, explaining that he had reached a decision “probably like a week ago.” 

Simmons, who attends Saint Francis (Ga.) High, picked the Wildcats over finalists Ohio State and Kentucky after eliminating UNLV from consideration following the dismissal of coach Dave Rice. Entering Saturday, Arizona and Ohio State were considered more likely options for Simmons, given Kentucky signed a five-star point guard, De’Aaron Fox, as part of its 2016 class in November. Meanwhile, Arizona had only had only one prospect committed as part of its 2016 recruiting class, and he’s a five-star power forward (Lauri Markkanen).  

Simmons has not taken an official visit to Arizona but indicated he plans to travel to Tucson, Ariz., in the near future. “I just feel like I fit great there,” Simmons told SI.com. He added, “I feel like I can trust that staff, and it just feels right.” 

At one point Simmons, who had taken official visits to Kentucky and Ohio State in August and September, respectively, seemed as if he would announce his college decision in time for the early signing period. But Simmons’s father told Scout.com that Simmons was “wide open” in November, allowing for the possibility that he would consider other schools. In the end, after shuffling his top three, Simmons chose a school that was excluded from a previous “final” list that he had revealed in September.

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When Simmons noted on Twitter last week that Arizona “has been recruiting me” and “are not out!” perhaps we should have taken the hint. What does his addition mean for the Wildcats?

Were he not a member of the class of 2016, Simmons’s decision would be more widely acclaimed. The problem is he’s part of a ridiculously deep crop of point guards. Scout.com ranks him No. 6 at the position, behind Fox, Washington commit Markelle Fultz, North Carolina State commit Dennis Smith, UCLA commit Lonzo Ball and Duke commit Frank Jackson. In another year, Simmons would not be slotted as low in the position or national rankings, which will tamp down the excitement generated from his decision.

But reducing his value to a single number would be silly. Simmons is a game-changer, a backcourt A-Lister who can help Arizona compete with the best programs in their conference and the country. He’s a skilled scorer and savvy playmaker who, at 6'5" and 170 pounds, potentially could run the point or play off the ball for the Wildcats. Simmons sees the floor well, he’s adept at maneuvering around defenders and finishing at the rim and can space the floor by knocking down jump shots—though his long-range shooting needs some work.

The chart below shows the top point guards in the class of 2016 as ranked by Scout.com. RSCI stands for Recruiting Services Consensus Index, a composite ranking that incorporates several recruiting services.

On Saturday, Simmons dropped 34 points on 9-of-19 shooting, grabbed 11 rebounds and recorded nine assists—just missing a triple-double—in a thrilling, double-overtime 94–92 victory over Jackson and Lone Peak. “His game here at the Hoophall Classic was probably the best game I’ve seen since his junior season of high school,” Scout.com’s Evan Daniels said of Simmons. “It was a very business-like performance from him.” Daniels added, “I noticed some improvement, too, certainly from a confidence standpoint in his long-range ability. He shot the ball pretty well here. He still has kind of a low release point on his shot, but everything else about it looks pretty good.” 

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Earlier this month Simmons, Saint Francis’s all-time leading scorer, eclipsed 2,000 career points, and in 11 games with his grassroots team, the Atlanta Celtics, in the adidas Uprising circuit last year, he averaged 16.3 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game while posting a 26.4 Player Efficiency Rating. 

At Arizona, Simmons should compete to start at point guard right away. Junior Kadeem Allen and sophomore Parker Jackson-Cartwright have spent time at the position this season, but neither has played well enough to date to ensure their playing time won’t be cut to make room for a prospect of Simmons’s caliber. It’s worth noting that Allen is definitely capable of operating off the ball in the same backcourt as Simmons. Both players offer versatility that glosses over any questions about positional fit: Simmons and Allen can create and score in tandem.

Though it will lose its top perimeter shooter, senior shooting guard Gabe York, this off-season, Arizona is set to return second-leading scorer, freshman Allonzo Trier, to an offense scoring a Pac-12-high 1.2 points per possession in conference play this season. “My game is very uptempo, and that’s my style of play, so I feel like I’ll fit in perfect,” Simmons said. Simmons and Markkanen, a 6'10"’ stretch four from Finland, are the only two prospects in the class of 2016 currently committed to Arizona, but the Wildcats are also in the mix for the class’s top uncommitted prospect, guard Josh Jackson.

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