Memories of the Bass Pro Tournament of Champions stay with Ben Simmons.
The No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft still talks about his experience winning the 2014 Tournament of Champions with Montverde Academy (Montverde, Florida). Now with the Philadelphia 76ers, Simmons compared notes with his older brother, Liam, in the days leading up to this year’s tournament.
“He talks about this tournament like he played in it last week,” Liam Simmons said.
Liam Simmons was an assistant men’s basketball coach at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, Louisiana in 2014 when Ben Simmons, D’Angelo Russell and the Montverde Eagles defeated White Station (Memphis, Tennessee) in the championship final of the Bass Pro Tournament of Champions. Ben Simmons was a junior, and Liam Simmons was able to follow along on television.
At the end of the 2013-2014 season, Liam Simmons joined Clark Sheehy’s coaching staff at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar. The elder Simmons continued to follow his brother’s senior year at Montverde and the Bass Pro Tournament of Champions. He speaks with a cheerful Australian accent when discussing anything related to basketball.
“That one experience he had was something (Ben Simmons) still talks about today,” Liam Simmons said of the 2014 Tournament of Champions. “At that time—I never knew I was going to be here—so he’s telling me about how there’s 9,000 people in the gym.”
The brothers are among six siblings in the family of American Dave Simmons, who played 15 years of professional basketball, and Australian Julie Simmons. The boys were raised in Australia, but Ben Simmons moved to the United States as a high school sophomore to attend Montverde Academy to play basketball. He is the youngest of the six.
The consensus first team All-American played one season at Louisiana State University and entered the NBA Draft. His story was chronicled in the documentary “One and Done,” which explores he and his family’s views on the NCAA and the process of entering the NBA.
“We’re close and we tried to keep as close as we can throughout the whole process,” Liam Simmons said. “I think regardless of what happened with Ben, I think it’s just the way our family is wired.”
Ben Simmons drew some criticism for his attitude toward privacy leading to the draft, but that didn’t stop the 76ers from choosing him first. Liam Simmons said the family’s desire to keep some of their lives together private can be misconstrued as standoffish behavior.
“A lot of stuff you’re trying to keep under the hood,” Liam Simmons said. “You just want to keep your private life private and let your basketball do the talking when you can.”
Ben Simmons has been sidelined from making his professional debut with an ankle injury but remains in Philadelphia recovering. The tight-knit family stays in touch.
“He’s my brother, so we talk quite frequently. He’s really busy in his adjustment to his new job,” Liam Simmons said. “He’s a texter, so we text a lot, and he’s still the same kid he was when he was 15 and had no idea he was going to be who he is today.”
The Simmons family still maintains a strong relationship with the Montverde boys basketball team. Liam Simmons had breakfast with head coach Kevin Boyle and assistant coach Rae Miller after the Eagles arrived in Springfield. Liam Simmons also struck up a friendship with coach Jeff Jones from Madison Prep (Baton Rouge, Louisiana).
SBU had a game Thursday and has a game at 3:30 p.m. Saturday in Bolivar against Northwest Missouri State, but Liam Simmons still took in some Tournament of Champions action Friday and intends to attend the championship game Saturday night.
“It’s the best high school tournament in the country, it’s well attended, it’s well run and Springfield is just first class in terms of Missouri is a basketball state,” Liam Simmons said.
While Liam Simmons aspires to one day be a head coach, he isn’t in a rush to leave Bolivar.
“I’m really enjoying being here and SBU and Coach Sheehy is first class in terms of building a program and teaching me,” Simmons said. “I feel very comfortable being here. My wife and newborn son have been here for a while, so we’re not in a hurry to take off.”