As the No. 1 player in the Class of 2015, Australia native Ben Simmons has traveled around the world and met plenty of important basketball figures.
Being a student of the game, the LSU commit was very surprised on Tuesday when he was pulled out of class at Montverde Academy and former NBA All-Star Dominique Wilkins was there. Wilkins presented Simmons with the 2015 Gatorade Boys Basketball National Player of the Year award.
Simmons was honored to win the award and was also thrilled to meet the “Human Highlight Film” in the process.
“It’s overwhelming having Dominique Wilkins presenting me with the award and having my family here. It’s been overwhelming, but at the same time, it’s been exciting,” Simmons told NBCSports.com.
“I walked into the locker room and [Wilkins] was there with the trophy. It was a crazy experience.”
Unique basketball experiences have come often for Simmons and he wins the Gatorade National Player of the Year award in-part because of his unique abilities on the floor. At 6-foot-9, Simmons will often play the role of point forward, initiating offense for teammates and setting them up on fast-break opportunities using his exceptional passing ability.
For head coach Johnny Jones at LSU next season, Simmons sees himself in that very position as he wants to help the Tigers reach another NCAA Tournament.
“A point forward; I think that role best describes me,” Simmons said. “Someone who can bring the ball up. But also, being someone who is 6-foot-10, bring the ball up and setting up a play or getting into transition.”
Before he heads to Louisiana for the next leg of his complicated basketball journey, Simmons wants to take care of business on the high school level. Playing at basketball powerhouse Montverde Academy, Simmons helped the program win a national championship last season and is currently averaging 28 points and 11.9 rebounds per game through 29 games in 2014-15.
The goal is for Simmons to help Montverde to another national title while also maintaining his top spot in the 2015 class. Later this spring, Simmons will also compete in the 2015 McDonald’s All-American Game, the Nike Hoop Summit and the Jordan Brand Classic. Simmons credits a lot of his personal accomplishments to his stint at Montverde. Playing for head coach Kevin Boyle, and being surrounded by Division I prospects as teammates, has helped prepare him for the next level.
“I think just having a great coach at Montverde with Coach Boyle and great teammates has helped me develop. Every practice is like a game so every time we go out there in practice, I’m getting better every time out.”
Outside of the court, Simmons is your average teenager. Friends, movies and traveling include some of his hobbies. Being from Australia, and having lived on multiple continents, Simmons likes seeing new places and dealing with new experiences.
“I like to hang out with my friends, movies, stuff like that. Travel; I could travel a lot, so that’s big for me,” Simmons said. “I’ve traveled a lot as an 18-year-old kid. I’ve been to Europe, China, America — coming over here to play. So I like to travel.”
One place on Simmons’ travel bucket list happens to coincide with his potential basketball future.
“I want to go to Brazil. I know the Olympics are there in 2016, so hopefully I can do that,” he said.
Although Simmons was cut from the Australian Boomers national team before the 2014 FIBA World Cup of Basketball last summer, he gained some valuable experience playing against NBA players like Patty Mills and Aron Baynes.
The goal for Simmons is to potentially make the 2016 Olympic team for his native Australia, but it also depends on his standing at LSU.
“I know I can definitely be on that team, without question. But I definitely look forward to getting the opportunity to do that,” Simmons said of the 2016 Olympics. “But at the same time, I don’t know where I’ll be at finishing college. I could be gone [to the NBA], I could be staying [at LSU], so I’m not really sure yet.”
It’s easy to look ahead and think of Simmons playing in the 2016 Olympics — or even at LSU next season — but first he has to finish his high school career in the next few weeks.
Simmons will be contending for the No. 1 spot in the Class of 2015 along with players like Jaylen Brown and Skal Labissiere. The battle for the top spot — and to be the best player possible at LSU next season — is what drives Simmons to keep working late in his high school career.
“Being looked at as the top player, it’s just me trying to get better every day and be the best player I can be. Everything else will take care of itself.”