Much More Than a Scorer: Why Ben Simmons Will Be a Special CBB Superstar

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Much More Than a Scorer: Why Ben Simmons Will Be a Special CBB Superstar
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Ben Simmons grabbed the rebound and motored into the frontcourt with his head up looking for an open teammate. Simmons is 6'9", yet his focus has always been on the fundamentals taught to perimeter players. He moves with equal parts grace and power.

As Simmons neared the three-point line, he was going right and then switched quickly to the left on his way into the lane. He's ambidextrous, making it nearly impossible for high school defenders to stay in front of him.

"Forget college," one high-major assistant coach watching courtside says. "He's ready for the League."

Discovering the next big thing in basketball often brings with it such hyperbole. Simmons, already verbally committed to LSU, is the best prospect in the 2015 class—most recruiting services and college coaches polled last month at Peach Jam agreed—and with that comes a mountain of expectations. So outrageous that they can spin 17.1 points and 5.9 rebounds per game into a disappointment. (Those were Andrew Wiggins' numbers as a freshman at Kansas.)

Wiggins was supposed to be something so phenomenal that "best prospect since LeBron James" was thrown around repeatedly. The 2015 class isn't nearly as hyped, and Simmons is something entirely different and refreshing that doesn't fully come across in a mix tape.

He's an athletic version of Boris Diaw. That might not sound like much, but imagine if Diaw was a more athletic version of himself. He would be an All-Star.

Simmons projects as a point forward, able to play a role similar to how Iowa State used Royce White a few years ago. That position is a novelty in college basketball because typically they only grow them like that in Europe, and the best Europeans rarely end up playing college basketball.

Simmons also comes from overseas by way of Australia. His father, Dave Simmons, played professionally in Australia and helped build his son into the type of player he admired.

"I was the bruiser inside," Dave said. "He's got the skills. I didn't have a lot of those skills—the shooting and the understanding of the game. When I became a professional, I just thought I'll coach my kids and make sure they can dribble, pass, shoot, play defense. All the basics."

For most big men, it's a plus if they're simply a "willing" passer. The best prospects are typically viewed as the best scorers, and it's no coincidence that elite prospects play a me-first game. That's what gets them noticed and rewarded with a high ranking.

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Simmons has had the chance to adjust to the American game. He played last year at Montverde Academy in Florida, one of the elite high school programs in the country. As is expected of the top players in each class, he put up solid scoring numbers on the summer circuit—he averaged 19.0 points per game in Nike's Elite Youth Basketball League (EYBL).

But it's his vision and ability to control the game without scoring that make him special. He sees plays before they develop. His vision and passing ability is on another level than his peers, even most of the point guards.

"I think it's the mentality," Dave said of the difference between his son's approach and American-born players. "You're taught more team-oriented basketball, and coaching Ben, if he came down and he didn't make a pass, I told Ben, 'Hey, you need to pass,' and you're taught give it to the open man. That's how you're taught to play. Here, you've got other agendas."

Most of those agendas are set on landing a scholarship at the school that will get players most ready for the NBA. Those schools are typically considered the blue bloods like Kentucky, North Carolina and Kansas.

Kentucky has had 19 players drafted in the last five years. LSU has had only two in that time.

But LSU coach Johnny Jones landed Simmons by bringing in assistant coach David Patrick. Patrick is one of the best recruiters of Aussie talent in college basketball—he was at St. Mary's for four years—and he also just so happens to be Simmons' godfather. Patrick and Dave Simmons played together in Australia and are close friends.

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Landing Simmons will make the Tigers relevant in 2015-16, and they could be a top-10 team if the two best players currently in the program—big men Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin—decide to stay in school after their upcoming sophomore seasons.

If both Mickey and Martin return, Jones could have three starters at 6'8" or taller, with Simmons likely playing small forward.

"I think he wants to let me play my game," Simmons said. "He wants me as a wing man but play defense as a big."

The luxury to play his game is one that Simmons should get at LSU, and he's not the first multiskilled big lefty who has picked a program where he'll likely get more freedom. In addition to Diaw, Simmons reminds me of a young Lamar Odom, who averaged 17.6 points, 9.4 rebounds and 3.8 assists in his one year at Rhode Island.

Simmons has the ability to fill the stat sheet up like that as well, and right now the only question mark in his game is whether he can shoot outside. He was hesitant to pull the trigger at Peach Jam.

"I can shoot it," Simmons said, "but I'm not going to just shoot the ball when I can get to the rim easily."

That makes sense and should be admired. Many players go out of their way to show they can do something that scouts doubt. Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart jacking up 164 three-pointers this past year is a great example. With Simmons, even if the jumper isn't fully developed, the form appears to be there. He'll surely bust it out once it's ready and needed.

But again, scoring isn't what makes this prospect so galvanizing. It's his mind and the way he sees the game. That's why coaches, in particular, love Simmons.

And that's why LSU could be a threat in 2015-16. He'll be the rare freshman who makes others better. A feel for the game—influenced by growing up overseas—that will be a rare treat for college basketball.

 

C.J. Moore covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @CJMooreBR.

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