While Creighton got good news this week on the NCAA granting Grant Gibbs a sixth season of basketball eligibility, UNO is still waiting to hear about a potential final semester for its leading scorer, guard Justin Simmons.
“Our compliance people have been very diligent, but there’s nothing definitive yet, and we don’t know what the timeline would be,” Mavericks coach Derrin Hansen said.
Simmons, who started his career as a Division III track athlete at Concordia (Wis.), is eligible to play the first semester, Hansen said. But the second semester is in question.
Simmons enrolled at Concordia for the spring semester in 2009, which means his five-year Division I clock for eligibility ends after the upcoming fall semester.
Hansen said he believes there are cases similar to Simmons’ that would justify granting him an extra semester.
“We feel it can and should work in his favor,” he said, “but you never know.”
UNO listed Simmons as a junior last season and has been confident that he would be eligible to play the full season.
“It’s a little unsettling, but at the same time we just want what’s best for Justin,” Hansen said. “We feel because of extenuating circumstances that he should get the full year.
“But even if he only gets the first semester, from a team standpoint, we have a lot of experience coming back at the guard and wing, and that will accelerate some younger wings if — worst-case scenario — he’s not able to play second semester.”
Simmons competed in his first season of basketball in 2009-10 and completed a second season in track in 2010 before leaving school for financial reasons.
The 6-foot-3 Simmons then played one season of basketball at Butler (Kan.) Community College before joining UNO last season. He earned second team All-Summit League honors after averaging 16.7 points and 4.0 rebounds per game, and shot 47.3 percent from the field and 40.2 percent from 3-point range.
Primarily a jumps specialist in track, Simmons still shows those skills as a spectacular dunker. The Mavs are seeking to get Simmons in the postseason College Slam Dunk Contest.
Simmons is a relative newcomer to basketball whose skills have grown exponentially.
His perimeter shooting has become a valuable weapon, and he’s a good driver who can also invent shots when caught in the air. He played one season of high school basketball, then played only sparingly at Concordia, where the coach saw him playing in pickup games and asked him to try out.
Now, particularly with another year of seasoning at the Division I level, Simmons could attract the attention of foreign pro teams.
“He has the attributes of some guys who have gone overseas in the way he can shoot and the way he can get to the basket,” Hansen said. “He needs a little more weight and needs to be a little more physical, but he knows that.
“And he can do some things you can’t coach — fly with the basketball, jump up and make shots in traffic, and jump up and make shots from deep. He’s added a lot of things, too, with his hard work and the help of our staff.”
Hansen is hopeful for another year for Simmons for more than just the Mavs’ program.
“It would benefit us, sure,” Hansen said, “but it would benefit Justin Simmons. He’s got a young child, and that led to him leaving school in the first place. So there’s a lot of circumstances that I think allow him to get that extra semester.”