And like that … he’s gone.
The news that Ben Simmons is leaving LSU for the NBA draft after less than one year in the program struck not like a bolt from Monday’s much-appreciated blue sky but like a bill in the mail you knew you’d have to face sooner or later.
You had your fun, LSU fans — or something like it.
Now the rent comes due.
That’s what the Simmons era (if we may call something so fleeting an era) will feel like around here. Simmons didn’t really belong to LSU; he was just here biding his time while he was required to wait for the clock to tick through his one college season until he got to hear the colossal cash register of his future go “Cha-ching!” Watching him score and rebound and dunk and make passes out of the Magic Johnson playbook felt a lot like watching basketball on a TV from one of those rent-to-own outlets.
It’s yours, but not really.
It’s a strange, out-of-body feeling for the LSU basketball aficionado. This is not a program that flashes a “Home of the One-and-Done Phenom” sign on the roof of the Pete Maravich Assembly Center. By anyone’s best recollection, the only other one-and-doner LSU has ever had was Anthony Randolph.
Note to Ben: Don’t go there.
So now that Simmons has lifted off for the galaxy of mega NBA contracts and shoe deals, those of us back here on Krypton are left to ask ourselves, “Just what happened here? What exactly was it that we saw?”
Simmons was a national obsession.
Of that there is no doubt. What player from another unranked college team got more highlights on “SportsCenter” than Simmons?
In the year of the polarizing presidential candidate, the Wonder from Down Under was an apt, media-dominating fit. But defining his legacy is as difficult as it was for opposing teams to keep him from ringing up a double-double.
You could say he was a freakish virtuoso, a hybrid mix of height and speed and ball-handling agility. And you’d be right.
You can also say his game was flawed offensively, and you’d be right about that, too. Simmons lacked range of any kind, making just 67 percent of his free throws and all of one 3-pointer. (He attempted three.)
You can say his passing, his ability to get his teammates involved in the offense, more than made up for his offensive limitations. That’s true. But you could justly argue back that his 1.42 assist-to-turnover ratio was hardly anything special. That’s true as well.
The stats say he led LSU with 27 blocked shots. But the eye test says that much too often Simmons was a vapor-like defensive presence around the basket. One can justly ask: “If LSU could have traded one more year of Jordan Mickey for zero years of Ben Simmons, would the Tigers have made the NCAA tournament?”
You can say Simmons led this team, led the Tigers with his scoring and rebounding and his tireless play. He never seemed to come off the court unless he was in foul trouble. That’s commendable.
But while Simmons inspired fellow star recruits like Antonio Blakeney to gravitate toward him and LSU’s program, he didn’t seem to inspire their play. You kept waiting for a Danny Manning & The Miracles eureka moment, a “Follow me, guys! We’re gonna win!” sort of élan.
Instead, Simmons seemed to inspire indifference and at times jealousy from some of his teammates who felt the chill of his considerable shadow instead of trying to match the man and his megawatt starpower. That’s almost tragic.
The ultimate measuring stick is wins and losses. Pete Maravich in his senior season at least took LSU to the NIT Final Four. Rudy Macklin, Bob Petit and Tyrus Thomas took their teams to the NCAA version. Shaquille O’Neal helped LSU win an SEC title.
Simmons couldn’t even will the Tigers to a single NCAA tournament appearance.
Simmons’ stay at LSU was excitement. It was disappointment. It was a happening. It was frustrating. It was appointment basketball. It was perhaps the biggest letdown the program has ever known.
It was all those things, and now it’s over. And so we’re left to ask ourselves: Was it all really worth it?
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter,@RabalaisAdv.