CHICAGO — With media members surrounding Benny Simmons, he answered every question punctually and confidently.
Then his buddy Antonio Blakeney approached.
“They want to know how you recruited Malik Newman,” Simmons said to Blakeney.
It was only a couple of minutes earlier that Blakeney had a little fun at the media members’ expense.
“I just yelled out, ‘Malik just committed,’ ” Blakeney said while chuckling. “Everybody looked. Everybody stopped and looked. He basically committed.”
Well, not exactly.
Future LSU men’s basketball players Simmons and Blakeney were loose and full of smiles at media day Tuesday with the McDonald’s All-American Game set for Wednesday night.
Simmons, the No. 1 player in ESPN’s Top 100 for the Class of 2015, and Blakeney, No. 14, are set to make a great combo in Baton Rouge. They’re trying to make it a great trio.
Newman, the fourth-ranked player in the class, is being heavily recruited by LSU. He’s also being heavily recruited by Simmons and Blakeney.
“As of now, they’re doing a tremendous job of recruiting me while I’m here,” Newman said. “If I was to go there, I’d have to give a lot of credit to those guys for it.”
The three talented teens could make the Tigers a power in the Southeastern Conference. The 6-foot-9 Simmons, who plays at Montverde (Florida) Academy, is the best power forward in the class. Blakeney, who is 6-foot-4 and a product of Oak Ridge High School in Orlando, Florida, and Newman, who is 6-foot-3 and from Callaway High School in Jackson, Mississippi, are the top two shooting guards.
“We hound him, but it’s for fun,” Blakeney said. “Wherever he goes, we’re still going to be cool.”
Simmons and Blakeney don’t have to tell Newman what kind of impact the three dynamic players could have if they teamed up next season.
“He knows,” Blakeney said. “He knows what we can do, and everybody knows. It ain’t no secret. We can do damage.”
“I think we can offer a lot. All three of us offer a different thing to a team,” Newman said. “Something we have in common is winning. I know that we can bring a winning atmosphere to LSU, and we can just do great things on and off the court for the community.”
How good can LSU be if the trio is intact?
“I think we’d be contending for the Final Four,” Newman said. “Once you get to the Final Four, you never know what can happen. I think a Final Four is what everybody would be hoping for, but maybe a national championship, to be honest.”
Newman isn’t disclosing his final list for top colleges, and he’s certainly being tight-lipped if LSU is the frontrunner. However, he said he will make his decision relatively soon since time is winding down.
“I think the chance of him going to LSU is 80 percent,” Blakeney said.
If Newman doesn’t pick LSU, Simmons and Blakeney will be a reputable duo.
“I really want to play with him because I know he can really take over a game. But at the same time, he’s so unselfish. That’s what I like about him,” Blakeney said about Simmons.
Simmons is averaging 28 points, 11.9 rebounds and four assists per game this season for Montverde Academy, which is playing in the Dick’s Sporting Goods national tournament starting Thursday.
Blakeney finished his senior season at Oak Ridge by averaging 31.7 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.7 assists.
Simmons said he can’t wait to play on the same college team as Blakeney.
“It’s going to be fun,” he said.
Simmons and Blakeney have played on the same AAU team in the past and teamed up at the LeBron James Skills Academy last summer. On Wednesday, the two will lead the East squad during the McDonald’s game, which will air on ESPN at 8 p.m. The guys will have a tough test against Newman and the West.
Simmons will be keeping an eye out for Blakeney during the game.
“If he’s open, I’m going to get it to him, and he’s going to hit it,” Simmons said. “We play well together.”
Blakeney wants to put on a show for the fans, especially the LSU faithful.
“They’re going to see us out there playing hard, running up and down and getting buckets,” Blakeney said. “Maybe some highlight dunks and stuff. It’s going to be a little preview for next year.”
Simmons wins another honor
Simmons on Tuesday was named the USA Today Boys Basketball Player of the Year.
The player of the year honor is the fourth for Simmons, who signed with LSU in November after committing to coach Johnny Jones’ program 13 months earlier.
Simmons already has been honored as the Gatorade national player of the year and has won the Naismith Trophy and Wootten Award.