While it’s been widely believed LSU star freshman Ben Simmons would play only one college season because he’s a possible top pick in the NBA draft this June, it didn’t take long for the speculation to start when the Tigers’ season ended Sunday evening.
Early Monday morning, Yahoo!Sports, citing anonymous NBA sources, reported Simmons will soon sign with the Klutch Sports Group. The agency was founded in 2012 by Rich Paul, a close friend of Cleveland Cavaliers’ star LeBron James, and is funded by James, according to the report.
In addition to James, Paul lists current NBA stars like John Wall, Eric Bledsoe and Ben McLemore among his clients.
The report said Simmons’ older sister, Emily Bush, has been a marketing/branding employee of Klutch since 2014. Her hiring came after James and Paul began recruiting Simmons as a potential future client.
Simmons attended the LeBron James Skills Academy as a 17-year-old in 2014 and spent time, along with LSU teammate Antonio Blakeney, with James and other NBA players at the Nike Basketball Academy in California last June.
The story said the arrangement for Klutch to represent Simmons has been in place for over a year, and papers to formalize the partnership are expected to be signed soon.
Sources also said the 6-foot-10, 240-pound Simmons, who was named a first-team All-American by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association on Monday, will prepare for the draft in Cleveland or Los Angeles.
In a text message to The Advocate later Monday morning, Simmons’ father, David, said his son has not submitted his name for the NBA draft and hasn’t hired an agent.
“Ben hasn’t even declared for the draft and he certainly hasn’t signed anything with anyone,” David Simmons said in the text.
The Yahoo story was posted just hours after LSU coach Johnny Jones announced his team wouldn’t participate in any postseason tournament after not making the 68-team NCAA tournament field that was revealed Sunday.
LSU’s slim hopes of reaching the NCAA tournament for a second consecutive year ended Saturday when the Tigers dropped a 71-38 decision to Texas A&M in the Southeastern Conference tournament semifinals.
In declining to participate in a postseason tournament, likely the NIT, Jones said he thought it was best to immediately shift the focus to getting the program back to the NCAA tournament next March.
Simmons’ college career likely ended with the devastating loss to Texas A&M.
He led LSU in five statistical categories, averaging 19.2 points, 11.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 2.0 steals and 0.8 blocks. He was the SEC coaches’ first-team All-SEC pick as well as Freshman of the Year. He earned the same honors Monday from The Associated Press.
When he was selected as a USBWA first-team All-American on Monday, Simmons became the ninth LSU player to make one of the recognized All-America teams — joining Sparky Wade (1935), Bob Pettit (1953, 1954), Pete Maravich (1968, 1969, 1970), Durand Macklin (1980, 1981), Chris Jackson (1989, 1990), Shaquille O’Neal (1991, 1992) and Glen Davis (2006).
Simmons was also named national freshman of the year by USA Today and The Sporting News last week.
But the team struggled with its consistency with a multifaceted talent like Simmons, who was often criticized by national media for passing the ball too much rather than being an assertive scorer — particularly in crunch time of tight games.
Ranked 21st in the preseason AP poll, the Tigers finished 19-14 after tying for third place in the SEC regular-season race with an 11-7 record.
The deadline for entering the NBA draft is April 24, which will be followed by the combine workouts May 11-15 in Chicago. The draft lottery will be May 17, and the draft is June 23.
Blakeney, who was part of the nation’s third-ranked recruiting class along with Simmons last winter, and fellow guard Tim Quarterman, a junior, could also declare for the draft.
— Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter, @MicklesAdvocate.