Former SFX student reaches stardom in the NBA

While the Winter Olympics is the flavour of the month, for Ben Simmons - a former student at St Francis Xavier’s Primary School in  Belmont who is now a superstar in the NBA basketball league in the USA - it is the 2020 Tokyo Olympics that is top of mind.

Simmons can’t wait to headline a Boomers team which - given the number of Aussies now playing in the NBA - has some serious depth of experience.

The list of those playing in the NBA includes Patty Mills (San Antonio), Dante Exum (Utah Jazz), Matthew Dellavedova (Milwaukee Bucks), Aaron Baynes (Boston Celtics) to mention but a few.

When asked if he thought if the Boomers had never been stronger, Simmons is quoted in a recent Age article as saying: “I think so for sure.”

Simmons has rapidly become one of the biggest names in basketball in the USA.

As a measure of his popularity, he was recently named among the best in the league, securing a place in the top-selling jerseys of the season. He was number eight of 15 on the list of names which included the likes of legendary All-Stars such as Lebron James, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant.

While Simmons narrowly missed a spot on this year’s All-Star team, he was voted in as a fan favourite and was selected to play in the NBA’s 2018 Rising Stars with Philadelphia teammates, Dario Saric and Joel Embiid.

It was here in Newcastle that he began what has developed as a stellar career. At the age of seven he played for the Newcastle Hunters under-12 team under the guidance and watchful eye of his father, Dave Simmons, the Hunter Pirates coach at the time.

While in Newcastle, he also played junior rugby league for the Western Suburbs and South Newcastle - so presumably he is a Newcastle Knights fan!

At the age of 10, Ben moved with his family back to Melbourne where he continued to play basketball. At 15, and while still in Year 9, he represented Australia at the FIBA Under-17 World Championship - helping his team win the silver medal.

It was in 2014 that Ben moved to the US to further his basketball career,  attending the No.1 ranked high school in the US for basketball – Montverde Academy. He played a key role in Montverde Academy’s winning three High School National Tournament titles in a row.

One of the highlights was being named ‘Top Player in the Nation’ in 2015. In doing so, Ben was following in the footsteps of legendary players who are now his now peers - Lebron James, Dwight Howard and Kevin Love.

He then attended Louisiana State University (LSU) Simmons where he started his career as member of the team that toured Australia. He made his first appearance for LSU in an 89–75 win over the Newcastle All-Stars with a double-double of 22 points and 10 rebounds.

The game was played at the Newcastle Basketball Stadium where Ben’s father had played for the Newcastle Falcons in the late 1990s. During the LSU Tigers five-game tour, Ben averaged 20 points and nine rebounds per game.

Returning to the US, he had a great first season with LSU at the end of which he was named as the league's Freshman Of The Year, based on the 2016 South-East Conference (SEC) coaches voting. He was also named on the eight-player All-SEC Freshman team. By the end of the year, no less than had rated him as a five-star recruit and Ben was listed as both the No. 1 power forward and the No. 1 player in the nation in 2015.

Little wonder that in 2016 he was drafted by the  Philadelphia 76ers - as the number one overall pick in the 2016 draft, becoming the third Melbourne-born number one overall pick in 11 years after Andrew Bogut in 2005 and Kyrie Irving in 2011.

In his first six games, he played well enough to be named in the All-Las Vegas Summer League averaging 10.8 points, 7.7 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game.

Then disaster struck when he rolled his right ankle at a September training camp scrimmage. X-rays revealed a fracture of the fifth metatarsal bone of his right foot which was expected to see him miss just three to four months. However, in February 2017 he was ruled out for the entire 2016–17 season after tests revealed that his broken right foot had not fully healed.

He made his NBA debut on 18 October 2017, scoring 18 points and 10 rebounds in his first game. He went on to become the only player in NBA history to begin a season with at least 170 points, 100 rebounds and 80 assists in his team's first 10 games.

The rest, as they say, is history and Ben is now well on his way to becoming a household name in the NBA. We will continue to watch, and report on, his career - and that of the Boomers - with interest!

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