Thursday, June 21, 2018
Sports

Simmons quickly earning hype

BROOKLYN, N.Y. — Ben Simmons, LSU's 6-foot-10 star freshman forward, hauled in a rebound from a missed free throw in the first half of Monday night's game against Marquette at Barclays Center and glided up the court, slowly building a head of steam. Once past halfcourt, he shifted into another gear, taking a dribble just inside the 3-point line before picking the ball up, taking two long strides and dunking over the outstretched arm of Marquette's 7-foot center, Luke Fischer.

For the 51 NBA scouts and personnel executives in attendance — a significant portion of the very sparse crowd — it was a glimpse of what Simmons, an Australian who is projected to be one of the top picks in the 2016 NBA draft, is capable of. For the fans watching, it was a glimpse of a better future — that is, if their team has a decent chance at claiming the No. 1 pick in next year's draft.

It would be hard for anyone to be anything but optimistic after watching Simmons effortlessly dominate Monday night's game. He finished with 21 points, 20 rebounds, seven assists and two steals while playing all 40 minutes in an 81-80 Marquette victory. Simmons easily would've had a triple double if his teammates had been able to convert some of the many open looks he provided for them. Instead, LSU shot 37 percent from the field, leaving Simmons to basically do everything himself.

That almost wound up being enough — proof of the immense talent Simmons possesses. Florida will see it first hand when it hosts LSU on Jan. 9 and visits the Tigers on Feb. 27.

"We know the potential," LSU coach Johnny Jones said. "We know how good Ben is, and what he is capable of providing to this team. As a team, we cannot ask him to put up these kinds of numbers night in and night out. We need to carry the weight across the board."

If Monday's game were any indication, Simmons will be carrying most of that weight all season. But that won't stop teams from drooling over his combination of size, athleticism and ball-handling skills. Between that, his on-court demeanor and the fact that he's left-handed, it wasn't hard to conjure up images of a young Lamar Odom watching Simmons play.

While his coast-to-coast dunk was the highlight, it was far from the only time Simmons brought the ball up himself and went to work. He still has work to do on his jump shot, but he was able to regularly get into the paint and showed an innate ability — and, more importantly, a willingness — to find his teammates with pinpoint passes. Despite being 6-foot-10, Simmons looked quite comfortable operating as the point guard for most of the night for the Tigers.

That willingness to pass wound up as a major talking point of the game after Simmons chose to pass to an open teammate instead of forcing a contested shot or driving into the lane at the buzzer. And again, his teammates failed to make the play, with Jalyn Patterson missing an open 3-pointer.

"I trust him a lot," Simmons said of Patterson, his former teammate at Monteverde Academy in Florida. "He hit the game-winning shot in the national championship when I was at Monteverde, so he can definitely step up and hit shots, but it just didn't fall."

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