LSU commit Ben Simmons named Gatorade Boys Basketball National Player of the Year

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source: AP
(Gatorade/Susan Goldman)

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.”

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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INDIANAPOLIS — With the coronavirus pandemic already forcing changes for college basketball, a bubble may be brewing in Indianapolis.

Indiana Sports Corp. released a 16-page proposal Friday that calls for turning the city convention center’s exhibition halls and meeting rooms into basketball courts and locker rooms. There would be expansive safety measures and daily COVID-19 testing.

The all-inclusive price starts at $90,000 per team and would cover 20 hotel rooms per traveling party, testing, daily food vouchers ranging from $30-$50 and the cost of game officials. Sports Corp. President Ryan Vaughn said the price depends on what offerings teams or leagues choose.

“The interest has been high,” Vaughn said. “I think as conferences figure out what conference and non-conference schedules are going to look like, we’re we’re a very good option for folks. I would tell you we’ve had conversations with the power six conferences, mid-majors, it’s really kind of all over the Division I spectrum.”

Small wonder: The NCAA this week announced teams could start ramping up workouts Monday, with preseason practices set to begin Oct. 14. Season openers, however, were pushed back to Nov. 25 amid wide-ranging uncertainty about campus safety and team travel in the pandemic.

There is already scrambling going on and some of the marquee early-season tournaments have already been impacted.

The Maui Invitational will be moved from Hawaii to Asheville, North Carolina, with dates still to be determined and organizers clear that everyone involved “will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.” The Batttle 4 Atlantis has been canceled. The Cancun Challenge will be held in Melbourne, Florida, not Mexico.

More changes almost certainly will be coming, including what to do with the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

“I think we’re past the guesswork on whether we play 20 conference games or more than that,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said Friday. “We’re trying to get everybody set like in terms of MTEs (multi-team events), figuring out when to play the ACC-Big Ten challenge.”

Painter, who was part of the NCAA committee that recommended how to start the season, noted part of the uncertainty stems from differing protocols imposed by campus, city and state officials.

In Indianapolis, Vaughn believes the convention center, nearby hotels, restaurants and downtown businesses, many within walking distance of the venue, could safely accommodate up to 24 teams. The 745,000-square foot facility would feature six basketball courts and two competition courts.

Anyone entering the convention center would undergo saliva-based rapid response testing, which would be sent to a third-party lab for results. Others venues could be added, too, potentially with more fans, if the case numbers decline.

If there is a taker, the event also could serve as a dry run for the 2021 Final Four, also slated for Indy.

“It’s not going to hurt,” Vaughn said. “I can tell you all the planning we’re doing right now is the same for a Final Four that’s been scheduled here for any other year. But it would be nice to have this experience under our belt to see if it can be done.”

Maui Invitational moving to North Carolina during pandemic

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The Maui Invitational is moving to the mainland during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the premier preseason tournaments on the college basketball schedule, the Maui Invitational will be played at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

Dates for the tournament announced Friday have yet to be finalized. The NCAA announced Wednesday that the college basketball season will begin Nov. 25.

This year’s Maui Invitational field includes Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina, Providence, Stanford, Texas and UNLV.

All teams, staff, officials, and personnel will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.

Burton eligible at Texas Tech after 2 seasons at Wichita State

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
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LUBBOCK, Texas — Junior guard Jamarius Burton has been granted a waiver from the NCAA that makes him eligible to play this season for Texas Tech after starting 52 games the past two seasons for Wichita State.

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard announced the waiver Thursday, which came five months after Burton signed with the Big 12 team.

Burton has two seasons of eligibility remaining, as well as a redshirt season he could utilize. He averaged 10.3 points and 3.4 assists per game as a sophomore at Wichita State, where he played 67 games overall.

Burton is from Charlotte. He helped lead Independence High School to a 31-1 record and the North Carolina Class 4A state championship as a senior there.

NCAA season set to open day before Thanksgiving

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The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball season will begin on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

The Division I Council voted Wednesday to push the start date back from the originally scheduled Nov. 10 as one of several precautions against the spread of coronavirus.

The later start date coincides with the decision most schools made to send students home from Thanksgiving until January out of concern about a potential late-fall and early-winter flareup of COVID-19. Closed campuses could serve as a quasi bubble for players and provide a window for non-conference games.

The maximum number of regular-season games has been reduced from 31 to 27. The minimum number of games for consideration for the NCAA Tournament was cut from 25 to 13.

Teams can start preseason practices Oct. 14 but will be allowed to work out 12 hours per week beginning Monday.

No scrimmages against other teams or exhibitions are allowed.

In other action, the council voted to extend the recruiting dead period for all sports through Dec. 31. In-person recruiting is not allowed during a dead period, though phone calls and other correspondence are allowed.

The men’s and women’s basketball oversight committees had jointly recommended a start date of Nov. 21, which would have allowed for games to be played on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The council opted not to do that to avoid a conflict with regular-season football games.

The council is scheduled to meet again Oct. 13-14 and could delay the start date and change other pieces of the basketball framework if circumstances surrounding the virus warrant.

UConn’s Tyrese Martin granted waiver to play this season

David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports
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STORRS, Conn. — UConn swingman Tyrese Martin, who transferred from Rhode Island in April, has been granted a waiver that will allow him to play for the Huskies this season.

The 6-foot-6 junior averaged 12.8 points and 7.1 rebounds and started every game last season for URI, where he was recruited by current UConn coach Dan Hurley.

NCAA rules require undergraduate transfers to sit out a season, but the organization has been more lenient in granting waivers during the pandemic.

Martin, 21, is expected to compete for playing time at UConn on the wing as both a guard and small forward.