Ben Simmons to LSU: Tigers Ahead of Curve in Tapping Australian Talent Pipeline
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LSU coach Johnny Jones hired assistant coach David Patrick last June before his first season in Baton Rouge, a move that hardly got the attention of anyone who follows college basketball at the time.
But looking at it now, that hire should have been classified as "brilliant."
The reason for such hyperbole is Australian big man Ben Simmons, the fourth-ranked player in the 2015 class according to ESPN.com. Simmons gave LSU a verbal commitment on Monday, becoming the first player ranked in the top 20 of his class to make his college choice.
The reason for his decision, after making just one college visit, seems pretty obvious. Simmons is the godson of Patrick, and that connection, if it didn't seal the deal, got LSU off to a nice head start for a player who was being courted by all the major players, including Duke, Kentucky and Kansas.
"It was a really laid back conversation because I know all of them so well already," Simmons wrote in a blog post for USA Today of his visit over the weekend. "David Patrick is my godfather and he's an assistant there and so I've always felt really comfortable talking with them."
Simmons, though he's a significant recruit, is just one recruit. And it's not likely that Patrick has other godsons out there looking to save LSU's basketball program.
But the hiring of Patrick goes deeper than winning over just one player.
Simmons is the second Aussie to sign with the Tigers. Darcy Malone, a 7-footer, will be a freshman for the team this year—and it's a pipeline that is likely to continue to be there.
See, Patrick grew up in Australia and played professionally in Australia, which is when he met Simmons' father, Dave Simmons. And Australia is a recruiting territory worth pursuing.
The number of Australian-born players making an impact in college basketball is growing by the year, and the programs that have a connection down under are reaping the benefit.
Saint Mary's is the innovator in this regard, and Randy Bennett has two Australian-born assistants on his staff. The Gaels had four Aussies on their roster last year. The two players most deserving of the credit for turning the program into one of the better mid-majors in the country are both Aussie point guards Patty Mills and Matthew Dellavedova.
The Gaels have made the NCAA tournament four of the last six years. When Bennett took over the program in 2001, the Gaels were coming off a 2-27 season.
Boise State has two starters and an assistant coach from Australia and made its first NCAA tournament in five years last season. Boise State coach Leon Rice came from Gonzaga, where Mark Few has long recruited overseas. Few has an assistant, Tommy Lloyd, who played two seasons professionally in Australia.
New Mexico has two Australians in its starting lineup, who were both recruited by former assistant Ryan Miller, who is now at Auburn. The Lobos took a trip as a team to Australia this summer, and coach Craig Neal now has a former Saint Mary's assistant on his staff.
Last year alone, a pretty formidable rotation could have been formed with Aussies who played in the NCAA tournament.
You get the point. Australia has real basketball talent, and those programs out West would not be where they are without those coaches using at least one spot on their staff for an assistant with Australian ties.
|Matthew Dellavedova||Saint Mary's||15.8|
|Jorden Page||Saint Mary's||6.4|
|Mitchell Young||Saint Mary's||7.7|
|Cameron Bairstow||New Mexico||9.7|
|Hugh Greenwood||New Mexico||7.0|
|Anthony Drmic||Boise State||17.7|
|Igor Hadziomerovic||Boise State||5.2|
|Cody Ellis||Saint Louis||10.1|
Stats from each respective school's website
So why don't we see more Australian-connected assistants popping up at Big 12 or ACC or SEC schools? It's hard to win at a place like LSU. Why not gain some kind of recruiting advantage no one else in your conference has?
Just like those schools out West figured out they had to be different to gain an edge, Jones realized it too. He's obviously a good recruiter in the states—his incoming class was in the top 10 of both Rivals.com's and ESPN.com's rankings—but it's hard to sustain that kind of success when you're not Duke or Kentucky or Kansas.
But by stretching his recruiting reach to Australia, Jones created a niche that is sustainable.
It wouldn't be surprising to see at least one Aussie in each of LSU's recruiting classes. Along with already getting a commitment from Simmons, the Tigers are in the mix for Dante Exum, who would be one of the best freshmen in the country in 2014-15.
All this from hiring one coach who spent a good chunk of his life in Australia.
Again, it's a wonder why more Patricks are not popping up on staffs at big schools. Australian players impacting college basketball cannot be classified as simply a passing trend. Look at that chart again. Go watch some tape of Exum. It could be argued the Aussies are developing their talent better than we are in the States.
Jones noticed. And now he leads the pack in recruiting the 2015 class.
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