SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Ben Simmons
had flashed about all of his vast basketball skills Saturday at the Jackson Sports Academy in McClellan Park.
The 6-foot-9, 230-pound forward from Montverde Academy (Montverde, Fla.)
, the MaxPreps Junior Player of the Year
, showed a "who's who" of college basketball coaches
— John Calipari, Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams, Tom Izzo, Larry Brown and Sean Miller to name a few — why many consider Simmons the most versatile and college-ready high school player in the country, regardless of grade.
Playing for the E1T1 Elite AAU squad in the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League Session One against the Baltimore Elite, Simmons scored 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting in 21 minutes leading his team to a third straight victory.
For the weekend, he averaged 18.6 points per game, shot 70 percent and averaged 7.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. This with a squad he'd never even practiced with.
With a skill set wider than his broad shoulders or 7-foot-plus wing span, and larger than his enormous hands, the native of Australia was asked if he idolized any players growing up or tacked any posters to his rooms of basketball legends.
Quiet by nature, and soft spoken, Simmons didn't really answer. He just pointed to a large, cut, middle-aged gentleman standing behind him.
It was his father Dave Simmons, a 6-8 post who grew up in the Bronx, played NAIA basketball in Oklahoma before embarking on a solid 15-year career in the National Basketball League in Australia.
That is where he met his Australian wife Julie and they had Ben.
So how about it dad? Does your son remind you of you when your were a youth?
Dave Simmons simply laughed.
"Not at all," he said. "He has all the skills. I was just an inside guy. They called me the ‘Enforcer.' "
But dad was also smart. And he knew his son, if he wanted to play the game at an even higher level, needed to be multifaceted.
He put a basketball in Ben's hands about the time he could walk — 10 months old. A couple months later he was running and a few months after than, he was dribbling.
Ben was multifaceted in that regard as well. Although he was a double-dribbler.
"He was dribbling from his pacifier and dribbling the ball," Dave mused. Cricket anyone?
It was shortly afterwards that Dave made sure he was dribbling with either hand.
"It definitely helped me," Ben said. "All of it did. I was around the game my whole life."
Ben played all sports growing up. Rugby. Australian rules football.
"But never cricket," his dad said. "Too slow."
With five older siblings and dad playing professionally, Ben quickly learned all the facets of basketball. By the age of five, he was practicing with kids twice his age. His bashful nature made him not want to compete in games, but with a little prodding from mom he eventually stepped onto the court with referees and a uniform.
He made a 12-year-old All-Star team by the time he was 7.
"Playing against older kids definitely made me better sooner," he said.
It helped to have Dante Exum
as a good friend and practice mate. Despite being only 18, Exum, a 6-6 point guard who attended the Australian Institute of Sport, is a projected lottery pick in the June draft.
Simmons, who owns dual citizenship, first showed up in the U.S. at the 2012 Pangos All-American camp as a 15-year-old incoming high school freshman, something pretty much unheard of at the prestigious camp.
That caught the attention of MaxPreps Basketball Editor Jason Hickman, among others. The reaction from all when Simmons showed up was basically "who is this guy?"
Simmons immediately answered.
"You could see the skill, the fluidity and the inside-outside game," Hickman said. "It was pretty apparent then that we were looking at a potentially special prospect and player."See Jason Hickman's Nike EYBL first team in Sacramento
He entered Montverde Academy his sophomore year and led the Eagles to two consecutive Dick's Sporting Goods High School National Tournament titles and a combined 55-2 record in that span.
Simmons, who averaged 18.5 points and 9.6 rebounds per game for the Eagles (28-0) in 2013-14, was the MVP of the national tournament. He played alongside seven Division-I bound seniors.
Ranked as the No. 2 player in his class by 247sports
, and with a scholarship to LSU already secured — his Godfather is LSU assistant David Patrick and Dave's former teammate — Simmons had little to prove heading into play Friday.
Still, he played hard wire-to-wire, played unselfishly and was definitely a favorite among his teammates, and onlookers.
"Of course I want to get better and compete against the best players," he said. "But ultimately I always just want to win."
Said Dave Simmons: "Bottom line, is I just want him to enjoy the game and if he does, then he could have a long and prosperous career." Ambidextrous Tracy McGrady
Both father and son, like others, were a little blown away by the onslaught of future Hall of Fame coaches.
"I sort of bumped into someone and I look and it was coach (John) Calipari," Ben said. "It was sort of like that all day."
And though Simmons seems firm to LSU, coaches like Calipari and other schools who have made offers — Kansas, Louisville, Florida, Duke, Ohio State and Washington — hope he changes his mind.
Especially after seeing what he did Saturday against Baltimore:
* In the opening minutes, he drove in hard for a left-hand layup, then drilled a right-handed floater from the baseline.
* In another sequence drove hard to his right, banged hard off a defender, hung in the air, and made a deuce while being fouled.
* He opened the second half with a right-hand flush, then took an outlet pass, drove past a couple defenders, hung again, before making another tough right-hand layup.
* He grabbed tough rebounds, sent a no-look pass to Daniel Giddens
for a roundhouse right-hand dunk and finished things off with a coast-to-coast dribble drive before flipping the ball up for another left-hand basket.
"I need to work on being more consistent with my shot, especially on pulling up from mid-range," said Simmons, who made a pair of 3-pointers in the first EYBL game. "I have a lot of confidence in my perimeter game. But I can always get better."
Scouts have compared him to a young Tracy McGrady, but he's not so apt to shoot. He sees the entire court so well and always appears calm and in control.
His strength really is that he has no obvious weakness, and his ability to finish and dribble with either hand really makes him a finished product.
That makes his dad proud.
"I know he didn't always like it that I made him use both hands all the time," Dave Simmons said. "But I think he likes it now."