FORMER Newcastle Hunters junior Ben Simmons will continue his basketball education at the same American college that produced Shaquille O’Neal as he maintains his trajectory towards the NBA.
The 17-year-old phenomenon, projected to be among the first players selected in the 2015 NBA Draft, will play for Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge after his final year of high school at Montverde Academy in Florida.
The son of former Hunter Pirates coach and Newcastle Falcons and Melbourne Tigers strongman Dave Simmons made his Australian senior debut in the clean sweep of New Zealand in the FIBA Oceania Championships qualifying series in August, a month after he turned 17.
‘‘Thanks again to every1 for the support. Excited to be a tiger and play in the house that pistol [Pete Maravich] and @SHAQ built,’’ Simmons tweeted yesterday.
Standing 208cm tall and weighing 104kg, Simmons is one of the most talked-about high school basketballers in the US.
He had been chased by powerhouses Duke, Kansas and Kentucky but chose LSU, where his godfather, David Patrick, is an assistant coach.
Patrick is a long-time family friend and played in Australia with Dave Simmons at the Melbourne Tigers and Canberra Cannons.
‘‘I know a lot of people will be struck by me deciding to go to LSU, but that’s where I felt most comfortable,’’ Simmons told ESPN.com on Monday.
‘‘I feel I can progress a lot there, and I feel blessed to have offers from all those schools.
‘‘I am extremely thankful to all the programs who recruited me. But I really felt comfortable with all the support I will have at LSU.’’
Born in Melbourne, Simmons was raised in Newcastle from the age of 18 months while his father played and coached in the city.
He played his first year of basketball at the age of seven in the Hunters under-12 representative team and played two more years for Lake Macquarie and Newcastle before his family moved to Melbourne.
At 15 he played for Victoria’s Box Hill at the Australian Schools Championships in 2011, then was a key member of Australia’s silver medal team at the FIBA under-17 world titles in Lithuania last year.
He moved in January to Montverde, helping them rally from a 16-point deficit to beat New Jersey’s St Benedict’s 67-65 in the final of the National High School Invitational tournament in April.
In his Boomers debut in Auckland, he dunked the go-ahead basket from his own steal late in the third quarter to spark a 70-59 win over the Tall Blacks
Interview with Dave Simmons
FOR a boy who spends so much time in the air, Ben Simmons still has his feet on the ground.
And the 17-year-old man-child’s father, former Hunter Pirates coach Dave Simmons, reckons his humility could be attributed to his Australian upbringing.
The baby-faced former Newcastle Hunters junior will play college basketball at Louisiana State University next year, and is being touted as a top-10 selection in the 2015 NBA Draft.
Born in Melbourne on July 20, 1996, during the opening ceremony of the Atlanta Olympic Games, Ben moved to Newcastle when he was 18 months old, when Dave left the Tigers to continue his NBL career with the Falcons.
Apart from playing three seasons with the Hunters’ under 12s, Ben played junior rugby league for Wests and Souths, then tried his hand at Australian rules football when the family returned to Melbourne when he was 10.
‘‘We were very happy in Newcastle, and glad that he had that experience,’’ Dave Simmons told the Newcastle Herald from Melbourne yesterday.
Ben is about to begin his final year of high school at Montverde Academy in Florida, then will suit up for LSU this time next year.
‘‘He only played a handful of games last season, then when he went back he was a lot stronger and bigger than when he was there in January,’’ Simmons said of his son.
‘‘Through his pre-season training, coaches had come in and physically seen him ... so they got to see what sort of player Ben was and what sort of potential he had.
‘‘Things got a bit crazy with all the recruiting, but with LSU, there’s that connection there with Dave Patrick, which gave them the inside advantage.
‘‘Sometimes I’m glad we’re here and Ben’s spent most of his time here, because over there, maybe it starts even earlier if kids show any sort of potential.’’
Simmons said he and his wife, Julie, had learned to deal with the hype.
‘‘It is a bit crazy at times, and sometimes we ask ourselves, is this really happening? But we have to accept it for what it is,’’ he said. ‘‘We don’t look at Ben as anything but our son – that’s just Benny – but obviously he possesses some very serious skill; it’s that skill set, and his size.
‘‘We didn’t know he’d be this damn big. Even in the days at Newcastle, he was a big boy, but he wasn’t freakishly taller than everyone else.
‘‘He’s had growth spurts, and he’s growing, but he still has those guard skills, and I guess that’s something that’s apparently quite rare.’’
The analysts have tagged Ben as a power forward with a soft-touch, left-handed jump shot to enrich his inside game, but Simmons said his son could play all five positions.
‘‘He’s more of a three, but a lot of what people are writing is just what they’re hearing,’’ he said. ‘‘He’s a good passer, good ball-handler – just a big oversized guard, really.’’
Ben is expected to follow friend and Australian under-17 teammate Dante Exum, son of Dave’s former Tigers teammate Cecil Exum, to the NBA. Eighteen-year-old Dante is tipped to go pro in the 2014 draft.
‘‘Sometimes we can all over-analyse things, but it is what it is. It’s basketball, but it’s just that these guys are that good in terms of their group ... and you just have to accept that, that these two Australian kids are that damn good,’’ he said.
‘‘Is it good management, good luck, or just a bit of everything? Maybe a big part of it is where they were raised, in that they don’t have the same sort of egos that some American kids might have that sends them off the rails sometimes.’’
Basketballers have to play at least one year in college before nominating for the NBA Draft. Simmons said Ben was likely to stay just one season at LSU.