Given today’s NBA Draft, I thought it would it be interesting to go back and see what I’d first written about Ben Simmons. This was originally published in 2012 for the now-defunct website BackPageLead.com.au.
Basketball recruiters look far and wide for the next big things. They scour the playgrounds, the high schools, even the middle schools for burgeoning talent. They look at Europe, Africa, Asia, and of course, Oceania, where Australians and Kiwis have made their mark in NCAA basketball and even the NBA.
So maybe it shouldn’t be surprising that a young Aussie player was the talk of one of the United States’ most prestigious basketball camps, Pangos All American Camp, held two weeks ago in Long Beach, California.
It’s what they’re saying about him, however, that’s intriguing.
Ben Simmons, a 16-year old from Melbourne was described on ESPN.com’s high school basketball blog as “the player who created the biggest buzz,” while CBSSports.com called him “arguably the best prospect at the event.”
That’s high praise for anyone, much less a kid from half a world away who many American coaches and recruiters would have seen in person for the first time.
It’s a big step for someone so young.
“Going over there, he didn’t know what to expect. He’d played against older kids but this was different,” said his coach Kevin Goorjian. “There are a hundred kids there, you have to be invited, and by the end of the three days they pick the top 30 kids. Ben was one of the youngest in the top 30.”
Goorjian, brother of high-profile former Boomers, Sydney Kings and South Dragons boss Brian, coaches Simmons at Box Hill Secondary College. The school has seen its share of players go on to US universities: Luke Kendall played at Metro State before forging a career in the NBL, Luke Spencer-Gardner was the all-time assists leader at Oral Roberts, and Jordan Vandenberg is currently at NC State.
But reading the rave reviews from the US scouting services, it’s impossible not to get excited about the potential of Simmons.
“He’s a great six foot eight athlete who’s special,” Goorjian admits. “Right now he’s going to get his schoolwork done, work hard on his game and the sky’s the limit.”
Simmons is part of a new generation of Australian basketball players whose fathers played professionally in Australia. Dave Simmons went to Oklahoma City University and came over here to play for the Melbourne Tigers. When his playing days ended, Simmons senior decided to make Australia his home.
It’s a similar story to that of Dante Exum, son of former Geelong Supercat Cecil, who played his college ball with Michael Jordan at the University of North Carolina. Last year, Dante Exum at age 15 was part of the Boomers training squad, the youngest call-up in Australian basketball history.
It’s also somewhat reminiscent of Kyrie Irving, the Melbourne-born point guard who starred at Duke and was the number one draft pick of the Cleveland Cavaliers. But Irving, despite his dual citizenship, didn’t grow up or go to high school here.
In the meantime, it’s all but certain that Simmons will be highly recruited by big-time NCAA schools. There are whispers of interest from North Carolina and Duke, which certainly makes sense based on what he displayed in Long Beach. In fact, the CBS website said Simmons “would likely be the number one player in the class of 2015 if he attended high school in the United States.”
If an Australian youngster ends up at one of the NCAA’s powerhouse programs – and no disrespect at all to Andrew Bogut and the University of Utah – it would not only be a remarkable personal achievement, but it would elevate Australian junior basketball to an entirely different level.
Goorjian adds, “For someone who isn’t seven feet tall, to go to a high Division One school, you have to be an unbelievable talent, because they get to pick from the best. And for somebody from Australia to go to a top ten or top twenty school is really something special.”
Maybe someone should alert Australian Customs to be on the lookout for an influx of slick-haired American guys in suits, carrying clipboards.