Kentucky Sports

SEC Media Days: LSU freshman Simmons unimpressed by his growing celebrity

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — You know you're a big deal when you can casually refer to yourself in the abstract. LSU freshman Ben Simmons is that kind of big deal.

When asked how his teammates react to the phenomenon that is Ben Simmons, he said, "It's kind of funny to them because they don't look at me as 'Ben Simmons.' I'm just a teammate. I'm Ben, the Australian kid who plays in America. Yeah."

Simmons, the second freshman to be voted the Southeastern Conference's preseason Player of the Year (Kentucky's Julius Randle was the first in 2013-14), is trying his best to blend in.

"During classes and going to school, I'm fine," he said of his burgeoning celebrity. "Nobody really bothers me. I'm a regular student. I tell everyone that. But everyone thinks I'm something else."

Reporters at the SEC Media Days on Wednesday laughed.

"I just try to enjoy it," he said. "I'm Ben from Melbourne, Australia."

Of course, it's not that simple. And LSU is not helping him keep his entry into college basketball as uncomplicated as possible.

It's been widely reported that LSU based its season-ticket campaign on Simmons' arrival. No one used the word savior. No one needed to.

"They came to me and asked me if it was all right with me," Simmons said. "I'm fine with it. It's an honor. I'm still a student-athlete. So I don't mind. It's good for the school, and anything to get people to the games."

LSU Coach Johnny Jones said Simmons could handle attracting ticket buyers. The player had played for the World Select team in the Nike Hoop Summit, the Jordan Brand Classic game and three high school national championship games for Montverde (Fla.) Academy.

"He's had microphones in his face for quite some time," Jones said. "I think he's trying to prepare himself not only for college, but for the next stage that's out there."

As Jones explained it, making Simmons the face of a season-ticket sales campaign made so much business sense, LSU almost had to do it. Or be guilty of marketing malpractice.

"Our administration did a tremendous job in terms of taking advantage of a great opportunity when you have a guy who is as marketable as Ben Simmons. And they feel the young man has the ability to handle it."

Welcome to what Jones called "the new wave of Internet (and) social media."

Farewell to the quaint idea of freshmen, even ultra-talented freshmen, being eased into college competition.

"I let them know I'm fine with it," Simmons said. "Nothing really fazes me like that. It's an honor and a blessing at the same time. It can be a curse sometimes. I'm enjoying it."

Simmons, a versatile 6-foot-10, 225-pound player, has been compared to LeBron James.

"My favorite player to watch," he said before adding, "I think that's a bit too much."

Simmons is said to be able to impact games as a scorer and a passer. Especially as a passer.

"He can score the ball amazingly well," teammate and roommate Keith Hornsby said. "His passing is the most impressive. He's the best passer I've ever played with. It could be three-quarter court chest passes, a bullet pass right to my arms. Or it could be just his feel for where you are on the floor. His court vision, obviously being 6-10, might help a little bit. He is sensational."

Later in his session with reporters, Hornsby continued the thought.

"A 6-10 point guard who pushes the ball relentlessly," he said of Simmons, "and has the court vision of an eagle."

On the down side, Simmons is not tidy in their shared living space, Hornsby said.

Simmons is familiar with basketball celebrity. His father, Dave, played well enough to have his number retired by the Melbourne Tigers professional team. The freshman came across at SEC Media Days as down to earth and unaffected.

"He's a tremendous person who turned into a phenomenal basketball player," Jones said. "A lot of hard work, time and energy has gone into that. He wants to continue to improve every day. He wants to be the best he can be. He's done a tremendous job of putting blinders on and staying focused. Staying the course."

It's all part of the guise of being Ben Simmons.

"It's so much a blur for me," he said. "Sometimes I'll go back to my room and just lay there and think, 'Wow. I just played against LeBron' or 'I met Kobe.'"

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