Ever since the National Basketball Association prohibited players from jumping straight from high school to the league in 2006, the nation’s top recruits have had to play one year in college prior to making the jump to the pros.
This year’s top recruit is Ben Simmons.
Born in Melbourne, Australia, Simmons began playing basketball at age 7. By the time he was 15, he had already been the star player of the silver-medal team of the FIBA Under-17 World Championships. After moving to the United States at the beginning of his sophomore year of high school, Simmons led Montverde Academy (Fl.) to three consecutive High School National Tournament titles and was named the 2015 Gatorade National Player of the Year.
Although he had his choice of nearly every college in the nation, Simmons chose the LSU Tigers over the likes of Duke, Kansas and North Carolina. This selection made fans scratch their heads; however, a closer look at the LSU coaching staff reveals that Simmons’s godfather David Patrick has been an Assistant Coach there since 2012. With just one NCAA Tournament appearance in the past six seasons, and their 2006 Final Four appearance now a distant memory, some have suggested that Patrick and Simmons were a package deal. Regardless of whether there is any truth to that, Simmons is proving to be the best player at LSU since Shaquille O’Neal.
Through 5 games, Simmons has filled the stat sheet, averaging 16.2 Points, 14.4 Rebounds, 6.2 assists, 2.2 steals and 1.4 blocks per game. However, his numbers do not do his physical talents justice. His passing ability resembles that of a traditional point guard, not a 6’10” 239 pound forward. For that, he has prompted comparisons to Magic Johnson and LeBron James, and he has NBA general managers drooling over the possibility of the No. 1 pick in next June’s NBA Draft.
His willingness to pass has been scrutinized in the early parts of the season, particularly in their 81-80 defeat to Marquette on Nov. 23. With the ball in his hands in the final seconds, Simmons passed to his teammate Jalyn Patterson, rather than looking to take the shot himself. Patterson’s uncontested jumper rimmed out, and LSU lost. Although some have been critical of the choice, the poise and unselfishness he showed in the face of adversity resembles that of a grizzled veteran.