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New Orleans Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday (11) shoots against Philadelphia 76ers guard Ben Simmons (25) and forward Dario Saric (9) in the first half of an NBA basketball game in the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, La. Sunday, Dec. 10, 2017.

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON

It's been less than three years since Ben Simmons played for the very first time in Louisiana.

He was an 18-year old kid in a grown man's body back then.

Simmons, then a high school senior at Montverde (Fla.) Academy scored 33 points, six rebounds and dished out six assists that day in a 74-40 victory over Helen Cox in the Allstate Sugar Bowl Prep Classic.

The Alario Center was packed that day as hoop fans from all over New Orleans made their way to see the LSU-bound phenom considered the best high school player in the nation.

"Simmons proved to be as good as advertised," I wrote on that day, Jan. 22, 2015.

Three years later, he still is.

The stat line from Simmons' first pro game in Louisiana was just as impressive as his first high school game. He finished with 27 points, 10 assists and five rebounds in the Philadelphia 76ers' 131-124 loss to the Pelicans on Sunday.

"It was cool to come back here and be close to Baton Rouge," Simmons said. "The game itself, probably not. But just having some family here and some friends from LSU was good to see." 

The No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 draft is 21 now, and less than three months into his first NBA season after he sat out last season because of a broken bone in his right foot.

Chances are, he'll be just third player since 2000 to make the All-Star Game as a rookie, joining Yao Ming (2003) and Blake Griffin (2011).

The NBA can go ahead and ship Simmons his Rookie of the Year trophy now. He's averaging 17.6 points, 9.3 rebounds and 7.6 assists. Just 25 games into his pro career he already has recorded three triple-doubles. The last rookie to record three triple-doubles that fast was Lamar Odom back in the 1999-2000 season. The only two guys to record three faster were so good that you don't even need to say their last names: Oscar and Magic.

Not bad for a guy just two years removed from his one season at LSU, where he put up monster numbers and was an All-American as a freshman, though he was unable to get the Tigers to the NCAA Tournament.

That failure to get LSU to March Madness, along with those who questioned his desire,  is probably why there were some boos mixed in with a few cheers when Simmons was introduced before Sunday's game.

But Simmons had his supporters too, some wearing his No. 25 76ers jersey in his first game in New Orleans as a pro.

Tianhua Ruan, a engineering student at LSU, was one of them.

He bought his ticket in Section 117 of the Smoothie King Center just so he could catch a glimpse of Simmons coming out of the visitors' locker room. He keeps the pictures he took with Simmons during his college days in his cell phone. He just finished his exams and is scheduled to go back to China for his winter break.

"But I had to see this game first," Ruan said. "He's the best player we had at LSU since Shaq."

Simmons wasted little time showing off the skill set that made Magic Johnson refer to him as the best all-around player since LeBron James.

He had 12 points and 8 assists in the first half alone, including a Lebron-like dunk over DeMarcus Cousins in the second quarter and a SportsCenter worthy no-look pass.

"I think Ben is truly going to be one of the great young players in this league," said Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry. "When you say he plays like Magic, everybody goes like, 'Ahh,' but he’s out of that mold right there where he does a lot things."

He's about as hybrid of a player as you'll find, able to play all five positions and able to do just as much with his right hand as he can do with his left.

How impressed has 76ers coach Brett Brown been with Simmons so far? Let's just say he could probably have gone much longer than the 15 minutes allotted for his pregame media availability.

“I mean how long do we have?" Brown said. "Imagine the volumes of times we have spoken about him. To sum it up quickly, he has been a four-man his whole life. We decided to make him a point guard. It’s the hardest position to play in the NBA, let alone for a rookie, let alone for someone in college who was a power-four man and, to his credit, he has embraced the position and exceeded in major ways, all expectations."

Those in the Alario Center three years ago aren't surprised.

The guy they came to see back then is enjoying the NBA ride. He stopped and posed for a picture outside the locker room with a pair of teenagers who didn't appear to be much younger than Simmons. 

It comes with his new role of being the future face of the NBA. 

"It's been fun," he said. "I've been enjoying it, just doing what I love. I love everything about it. 

Follow Rod Walker on Twitter, @rwalkeradvocate.