Well before LSU phenom Ben Simmons declared himself eligible for the NBA Draft on Sunday night, it seemed like a foregone conclusion the script would write itself out this way.
“Before he left high school,” said Lakers rookie point guard D’Angelo Russell, “he was going into the league.”
Russell wasn’t just speculating. The two played at Montverde Academy, a prep school down in Central Florida, before Russell starred last year at Ohio State. So even if Russell only knew his intentions to declare for the NBA draft two months left into his lone season with the Buckeyes, the Lakers’ guard still gave him some practical advice toward how he handled his own college career.
“I just told him to keep two feet in and get to the [NCAA] tournament,” Russell said. “If you make a better run in the tournament, you’ll leave a better legacy at the college level than whatever trouble he got into or whatever his talk about why he was there. It was all about the legacy.”
Perhaps easier said than done.
Simmons is expected to be a No. 1 or No. 2 pick after the 6-foot-10 Australian forward led the Tigers in scoring (19.2 points), rebounds (11.8) and assists (4.8) this season. But Simmons didn’t start against Tennessee in late February for what LSU coach Johnny Jones attributed to an academic issue. The Tigers (19-14, 11-7 in SEC) also failed to make the NCAA tournament and declined an invitation to participate in the NIT.
“His team didn’t make the tournament,” Russell said. “They struggled the last game and it was a big loss. I told him to stay two feet in and stay committed to his team.”
Simmons still left a good impression on the court after becoming the only player to average more than 19 points, 11 rebounds and four assists this season. Questions have persisted around the NBA about Simmons’ reluctance to shoot. But Liam Simmons, Ben’s older brother and an assistant coach at Southwest Baptist in Bolivar, Missouri, dismissed that criticism last month to Los Angeles News Group.
“What you’re seeing is the discipline of the player doing what the coach is asking him to do.” Liam Simmons said. “He can contribute to his team’s success without taking 20 shots. He doesn’t need 20 shots to have an impact on the game.”
Hence, Russell joked he will start a “We want Ben” campaign.
“He’ll fit in well,” Russell said of Simmons. “He doesn’t really have a position. You can’t really put him in a box. There’s a lot of room for him to grow, whether it’s a point forward or face up 4, whatever it is. He’s capable of doing it.”