Improving on 16.7 isn't as important to Justin Simmons as taking a dent out of 3.0.
Simmons, UNO's 6-foot-3 senior wing who's the Summit League's returning scoring leader (16.7 points per game last year), said he'd much rather cut down his turnover rate of 3.0 per game.
“I look at the stats, and I just want to have fewer turnovers than I had last year,” Simmons said. “Trying to make a play that wasn't there caused a lot of that. I just need to slow down. I don't have to average as many points. If I can get five or six assists a game and average 12 points, that's fine. I just want to make sure I'm making the right plays and do it with fewer turnovers.”
Simmons averaged 2.1 assists per game last season and also chipped in 1.2 steals. He was third on the team in rebounds, with 4.0 per game.
He was second-team All-Summit last year, and was one of six players named to the preseason All-Summit first team on Wednesday.
He also was the league's runaway leader in spectacular dunks and acrobatic shots — many of which went in. He shot 47.3 percent from the field, including 40.2 percent (43 of 107) from 3-point range.
“I like playing fast,” Simmons said. “I can get up and down the court with the best of them. Running, speed, crazy shots. There's so many things I feel like I can do, and I'm trying to get better.”
He'll probably get the opportunity to come close to his scoring numbers for the uptempo Mavericks. After all, his scoring average went up — to 18.8 per game — against Summit League foes who quickly found out what he could do but still couldn't stop it.
“He makes my job easy,” point guard Caleb Steffensmeier said, laughing. “I just get the outlet pass to him and stay back on defense and let him score.”
A Milwaukee native, Simmons has had an impressive offseason.
“His leadership, his athletic ability, and his competitiveness are all big,” UNO coach Derrin Hansen said. “Yeah, he scored some baskets for us last year, but there are so many other areas — his strength, being vocal, being a leader — where he helps us. It's important to return someone you can rely on to get you that 15 or 16 points a night or whatever it was, and then when you can add what he's improved upon, that's a good thing for your program.”
UNO still waits for shot at NU, CU
The question came at UNO's basketball media day. Why hasn't UNO been able to land a regular-season game against either Creighton or Nebraska since it began its transition to Division I three seasons ago?
“We would like the opportunity to play Creighton and/or Nebraska,” coach Derrin Hansen said. “Where we're at in the transition, we're going to play teams from their leagues and from that level of Division I. We would like (those games) to happen someday. When that happens, I guess I'm not sure. But we'd be more than happy to play those games.”
As a point of reference, UNO went 3-0 last year against teams on Creighton's schedule this season (2-0 vs. Missouri-Kansas City, and 1-0 against Chicago State) and 1-2 against teams Nebraska will play (0-2 against Western Illinois, 1-0 against Northern Illinois).
“Scheduling is difficult and I understand that,” Hansen said. “You have to do what's right for you. We want an opportunity to play those games, and I think someday that will happen.”
UNO is playing several high-profile opponents in Iowa (Nov. 10), UNLV (Nov. 15), Nevada (Dec. 14) and Minnesota (Dec. 20) — all on the road.
But Hansen tries not to get too far ahead of himself.
“You look at being able to play in Big Ten venues — Williams Arena (Minnesota) and Carver-Hawkeye (Iowa) — to be able to go play in Vegas at UNLV … those are all great games for us and I understand that,” Hansen said. “But South Carolina State, home and home, is equally, if not more, important. Playing Nevada home and home (with the return game in Omaha next year) is a good one for us, because we haven't had an opponent like that come to Omaha to play UNO before.”
Possible playing time for Bradley
Jalen Bradley, who redshirted last season after a stellar career at Norfolk, where he twice led the state in scoring (21.2 as a junior and 21.9 as a senior), is bidding for a role in UNO's playing rotation.
Whether the 6-foot guard gets there will probably depend more on his defense, though, than his offense.
“Jalen has done a lot of good things in practice,” Hansen said. “Obviously he shoots the ball really well. To play on this level he's going to have to be able to guard on the perimeter, and that's something he's really worked on and gotten better at. When he makes baskets, plays to his strengths and tries to negate some of those things he doesn't do as well, Jalen can find a way on the floor for us.”
Redshirt possible for Murry?
Rylan Murry, a 6-foot-8 freshman forward capable of stretching the floor while playing power forward like three-year starter Alex Welhouse did for UNO, seems to be a natural fit to a position of need.
However, Hansen wants to make sure the West Branch, Iowa, native isn't pushed too far too fast.
“We might play a little smaller,” Hansen said. “I think Rylan Murry can stretch the floor for us as a '4' man. Will he be ready to do that right away? He's played well in practice. He's done everything we've asked. Is he ready to play yet? Time will tell.”
As the team's only true freshman on a 12-man roster (transfers Jake White and Kyler Erickson must sit out the season), Hansen will balance Murry's potential playing time with the team's current needs.
Hansen waited until the season opener last year before deciding to pull the redshirt on guard Marcus Tyus, who wound up averaging 6.0 points while playing 17.1 minutes per game.
“He's done fine to this point,” Hansen said of Murry. “He's very cerebral. He's caught on. He's starting to adapt to the pace of the game and the physicality. But we do have some older guys (Mike Rostampour, Matt Hagerbaumer, Simon Krych) in front of him, so we're not going to play a kid seven minutes a game and waste a year. We're going to do what's right by Rylan and what's right for the team.”
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Video: Coach Derrin Hansen talks to the media
Video: Justin Simmons and Caleb Steffensmeier talk to the media