Making it onto the team bus in one piece after a high school game was an effort for rising Australian basketball star Ben Simmons.
The 19-year-old from Melbourne, who has been tipped as 2016’s No.1 NBA draft pick and has returned to Australia for a tour with his college side Louisiana State University (LSU), is a big deal in the US and has been for a while.
“It was crazy, once I had little kids waiting outside the locker room as a sophomore and then in my senior year, I used to come out of the locker room and it would just be packed,” Simmons said in Sydney on Friday.
“I couldn’t leave for about an hour or get on the bus because there were so many people waiting.”
It’s hard enough for bloke who is 206cm to get around campus without turning a few heads, but when you’re touted as the best LSU prospect since the great Shaquille O’Neal, you have no chance of getting from A to B without a few distractions.
“Usually it’s hard for me to go around campus and have somebody not say something or take a picture or something like that,” Simmons said.
Simmons was named the best high school player in the US earlier this year, picking up the prestigious Naismith Trophy and Morgan Wooten player of the year awards.
The son of former NBL star Dave Simmons was born in Melbourne and also lived in Newcastle and Canberra, and credits his father for helping mould his game.
“He always tells me to do the best I can or go out and work as hard as you can because that will be the best for you,” he said.
LSU head coach Johnny Jones, who was involved with the school’s program during O’Neal’s time at the college, said it was not ridiculous to label forward Simmons as the best prospect they’ve had since the giant centre and 1992 No.1 NBA draft pick.
“When you talk about the legitimate number one high school player in the country … when Shaquille came out there were a couple of other players that were touted the number one player,” said Jones.
“When Ben came out, there was Ben Simmons and then there was the other guys.”
Jones said Simmons was a class act on and off the court.
“The good thing for Ben is, his mum, dad and family have kept him grounded and kept in touch with that and he’s done an excellent job of handling it,” Jones said.
Simmons, who led his Montverde Academy in Florida to a 56-1 record averaging 29 points, 12 rebounds and four assists per game, is expected to play one season of college basketball before nominating for the draft.
“If I’m fortunate enough to be the top pick, then I’ll definitely take the opportunity,” he said.