The hype and the expectations surrounding Ben Simmons seem almost unfair to put on the shoulders of an 18-year old.
The comparisons to guys like Kobe and LeBron.
The tweet from Shaquille O’Neal proclaiming that “LSU just signed the best player in the world” when Simmons signed with the Tigers in November.
The dozen or so cameras and tape recorders in his face Wednesday at the Alario Center, one day before playing his first game in the state of Louisiana.
None of it seemed to faze Simmons, the 6-foot-9 Montverde (Fla.) Academy forward ranked the No. 1 player in the nation by ESPN.
“Growing up, you always see cameras when you watch NBA players,” said Simmons, sounding way more poised than your typical kid who doesn’t turn 19 until July. “An NBA player is what I want to be, so I know it just comes with it.”
Simmons proved to be as good as advertised.
He wasted little time Thursday night showing a packed Alario Center why some think he is already NBA ready and would be a surefire NBA lottery pick right out of high school if the league allowed it.
Just two minutes into the game, he came up with a steal, dribbled the length of the court (taking the ball behind his back once) before finishing with a slam. He knocked down a 3-pointer three minutes later, then another to end the first quarter with 16 points.
“I think he would go first this year if he went out of high school,” said his coach Kevin Boyle, who also coached 2011 No. 1 draft pick Kyrie Irving.
Instead, Simmons will have to play at least one season in Baton Rouge before becoming a millionaire right around the time he turns 20.
He is LSU’s most prized recruit since O’Neal 25 years ago.
He seems ready for the expectations that await him in basketball much like the buzz that football standout Leonard Fournette (also the No. 1 player in the nation) garnered when he signed with the Tigers last year.
“It’s big to have names like that, but at the end of the day you still have to put the work in for the team,” he said. “We all have goals to play in the NBA or the NFL. But we have got to keep working though.”
Simmons said the one thing he needs to improve on is becoming more consistent with his jump shot. And he’d like to become an even better leader.
Boyle knows he will likely do both.
“He has done such a good job of staying grounded and working hard in practice,” Boyle said.
But that humbleness doesn’t mean he lacks for confidence.
“You know I gotta show out while I’m here in New Orleans,” he tweeted late Wednesday night before his Louisiana debut.
Simmons finished with 33 points, six rebounds and six assists in the 74-40 victory over Helen Cox.
Folks in Louisiana get two more chances to see Simmons on Friday and Saturday in the Allstate Sugar Bowl Classic.
He will then look to lead Montverde to its third consecutive national championship before heading to LSU.
Baton Rouge will be the next stop on a worldwide journey that began in Australia, where he was born and raised before moving to the United States in early 2013.
It was his upbringing Down Under that helped shape him into who he is today, said his brother Liam Simmons, a former assistant coach at Nicholls State.
Ben Simmons is the youngest of seven children.
“He is the product of the way he was brought up,” said big brother, now an assistant at Southwest Baptist (Mo.) University. “When you grow up in a big family, you are one of many kids. You are not the most important kid. You learn to be patient and wait your turn. You learn to be polite and don’t let things go to your head. So that’s why he handling all the attention as well as he is.”
It’s in Australia where Simmons, the son of former professional basketball player David Simmons, started finding his way in sports.
He played everything from Australia rules football to golf to cricket.
“He was terrible at cricket,” said Liam Simmons with a laugh.
But he was pretty good at Australian rules football.
“It’s full contact and you can get hit from all sides, and that’s helped him in basketball,” Liam Simmons said. “His reaction and awareness is probably better than most kids because of that. He didn’t mind getting hit, and he doesn’t mind hitting people.”
But he gave that up to concentrate on basketball, a wise move considering he is now considered the top recruit in the Class of 2015.
“It’s an honor, but I feel like I worked hard enough to be the No. 1 player,” he said.
His versatility has helped him land there. He can play all five positions.
And he can defend all five positions.
He’s good with either hand. He was born-right handed.
“My dad put the ball in my left, and from then on I just started using my left hand,” he said. “It’s definitely helped out.”
He can deliver his pinpoint passes with either hand.
“He has a lot of power, but he’s very graceful up and down the court,” said Boyle. “… He and LeBron are probably the best two passers I have seen at that body size and height in high school in 25 years. He has incredibly accurate and strong passes.”
All those tools will likely make him the next in the recent pipeline of Australian players to land in the NBA, following the path of guys like Andrew Bogut, Patty Mills and Dante Exum.
Simmons and Exum grew up together in Australia.
“When me and Dante were around 8 years old, we always talked about reaching the NBA,” Simmons recalled. “It’s crazy that it has become a reality to him, and now I am also chasing my dreams.”