Not only is the native of Chicago adapting to the pace and style of Division-I basketball, but he has been adapting to playing a new position as well. A skilled shooter who was nicknamed "automatic offense" coming out of Mott Community College, Simmons has had to transition into being the primary ball-handler for the Buckeyes.
As his performance has shown, that has not been an easy process.
"It's a new system," Steve Schmidt, Simmons' coach at Mott, told BuckeyeSports.com. "It takes guys time to adjust to a new program when they've been in one for two years. I think he's doing a great job. I know fans wish he was putting up (Jamar) Butler- and (Mike) Conley-type of numbers, but different players are involved."
Now 19 games into his first season with the Buckeyes, Simmons is continuing to embrace his role as the point guard. The 6-2, 170-pound athlete sits sixth on the team with an average of 7.6 points per game and his assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.11 ranked him fifth in the Big Ten through games played Jan. 29.
That's not bad for a player who thought he would be spending time both at the point and the shooting guard positions upon his arrival at OSU. The initial thought was that Simmons would play at both guard spots as freshman Anthony Crater helped share the responsibilities at point guard. Then, 10 games into the season, Crater quit and Simmons was handed the reins on a full-time basis.
"It was a slow start at first, but once I got going it felt like I could easily adapt to it when I started playing in open gyms and stuff like that," Simmons said of playing the point. "Training-wise, I wasn't ready but basketball-wise I was."
While playing at Mott, Simmons was primarily a shooting guard until his team got into a tough situation. It was there that he earned 2008 JUCO Division II player of the year honors.
"When we needed a basket or it was a critical possession he had the ball in his hands," Schmidt said. "He was very unselfish off the ball for being a tremendous shooter and scorer for us. He didn't play the point guard position until we needed a basket."
As he has adapted to his new role at a higher level of basketball, Simmons has had his share of struggles. He has gone through long stretches where he has not looked to attack the basket, and the OSU offensive attack has had a number of hiccups along the way. Through it all, Simmons said he is working to slow down the game and grow more comfortable with the Buckeyes' system.
Earlier this season, OSU head coach Thad Matta said he felt Simmons was being too cautious with the basketball.
"I really believe that he's taken the responsibility of playing careful, which I appreciate, and saying, ‘Hey my job is to run this team. I don't want to do anything I'm not supposed to do,' " Matta said. "Now as time marches on hopefully he gets more of a comfort level of saying, ‘I've got a good feel if I do this somebody's going to be there. If I drive, he's going to catch this pass.' "
Schmidt, who said he has seen all of Simmons' games this season and was in attendance for road games at Michigan and Michigan State, said he has seen that passive approach wane as time as gone on. Although he averages an even 3.0 assists per game, he has averaged 4.5 per game in his last four contests.
That has not stopped Schmidt from constantly reminding Simmons to be aggressive with the basketball. He mentions that fact each time the two talk either via phone or text message, and signed a recent package mailed to Simmons with the words "Stay Aggressive!"
The high-water mark came in a decisive win against Indiana, when Simmons dished out a season-high eight helpers against the Hoosiers.
"I think he was thinking too much about getting the ball to the right people at the right times," Schmidt said. "That probably affected his ability to score, but I noticed lately he's doing a little bit more attacking the basket and he's playing a bit more aggressive offensively. It's just a matter of time."
Now halfway through the Big Ten season, the Buckeyes will look to improve to 5-4 in conference play as they take on the Hoosiers (4 p.m. ESPN2) in an arena Simmons said he has only heard about. To do so, they will have to rely heavily on their leader on the court.
He might still be a work in progress, but Schmidt said OSU fans will be pleased with the finished product when all is said and done.
"When he has that breakout game and has that confidence that I've seen before, it just builds," he said. "He'll be fine. He's doing a good job, but before long I think he'll be doing a great job."