Top 2015 prospect Simmons wants to be 'start of something new'

broberts@herald-leader.comJune 24, 2014 

Arguably the best high school basketball player in the country will be playing in the Southeastern Conference starting in 2015.

Since Coach John Calipari came to Kentucky in 2009, that's been a fairly common occurrence.

But Ben Simmons won't be suiting up for the Wildcats. And he won't be a Florida Gator.

Simmons — a 6-foot-8 power forward from Australia — will instead play for Louisiana State, a school that hasn't been to the NCAA Tournament in five years.

"That's the type of school I want to go to," Simmons said last week. "I want to go to school where I can help build the start of something new. I know they had great players back in the day, you know, like Shaq and Pistol Pete. I just want to be one of those guys that's remembered for helping build LSU."

Simmons was already on the national recruiting radar when he left his home country and came to play for Montverde Academy in Florida midway through his sophomore season. He possesses a blend of size, skill, athleticism and basketball IQ that attracted college scouts early on, and his recruitment picked up even more when he arrived in the United States.

It also came to a quick conclusion.

Simmons was hearing from just about every major program in the country — including Kentucky — when he committed to LSU before his junior season.

He was recruited there by assistant coach David Patrick, who is also Ben's godfather and a former teammate of Ben's father, Dave Simmons, who is originally from New York but ended up playing professionally in Australia.

Ben said he's known Patrick for as long as he could remember, and the connection paid off for the Tigers.

"I just felt comfortable with LSU," he said. "I just went with my gut. Usually when I go with my gut, it turns out pretty well."

Since his commitment, Simmons has been even more impressive.

He helped lead Montverde to a second consecutive national championship this year, and his stellar play has carried over to the summer circuit.

Simmons' Nike league team will try to defend its Peach Jam championship next month, and he was named the most valuable player at the NBPA Top 100 Camp last week in Virginia, an event that included many of the country's top players.

247Sports national recruiting analyst Jerry Meyer told the Herald-Leader that he's leaning toward ranking Simmons as the No. 1 overall prospect in the class of 2015 when his new list comes out in the next few days.

Meyer — a former high school star, college point guard and assistant coach at Vanderbilt — rattled off a list of all of the things Simmons does exceptionally well on the court.

"There are no holes in Ben Simmons' game," he concluded. "That guy — someone taught him how to play. He has such an instinctual feel for playing the game of basketball."

Simmons said he has "a guard mind-set," which isn't abnormal for the current generation of big men who try to emulate players like LeBron James and Kevin Durant no matter what their skill level away from the basket. What's abnormal about Simmons' game is that he's actually effective in the open floor.

"He just plays," Meyer said. "If Ben Simmons gets a rebound and dribbles down the court and makes an assist, he's not trying to be a point forward. He's playing basketball. ... And I think he's an extremely intelligent player."

And Meyer is expecting big things from Simmons at LSU, which might finally be equipped to make some noise in March once the Aussie arrives on campus in 2015.

"I think he can carry a team," he said. "He makes guys around him better, which is odd for a combo forward like him. He just seems to have the right mentality, a championship-type mentality.

"I think he'll be outstanding at LSU, and I think LSU will have talent around him."

Ben Roberts: (859) 231-3216. Twitter: @NextCats. Blog:

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