Nearly two years ago when Ben Simmons made the 12-hour flight from Australia to the U.S. to enroll at Montverde Academy (Montverde, Fla.) he mentally stored the list of the top basketball players in the 2015 class to give himself a goal to aspire to.
Atop that list? Ivan Rabb, a center at Bishop O’Dowd (Oakland, Calif.).
“I wanted to see which players I needed to play against to be considered the best,” said Simmons, an LSU signee. “I love competition and I was pretty eager to matchup with those guys. Ivan was the No. 1 player; I definitely remember that.”
Now it’s Simmons who’s the marked man, holding down the No. 1 spot in the ESPN 100; Rabb checks in at No. 5.
“I used to worry about rankings and things like that,” Rabb said. “But none of that stuff actually matters; it’s all about what you do at the next level. I prepare for that. I train for that. I go out every game and try to dominate whoever.”
Come Friday at 6:30 p.m. (ESPN2) at Montverde, “whoever” will be Simmons and his Eagles, the No. 1 team in the USA Today HSS Super 25. Rabb and the Dragons check in at No. 12.
Still, while the hype machine will no doubt bill Montverde-Bishop O’Dowd as the “clash of top five titans,” Simmons is quick to warn that said matchup will, in all likelihood, fail to live up to the hoopla.
“We don’t even play the same position,” said Simmons, who plays the point-forward role for the Eagles. “I get why everyone wants to see this game, but the truth is we won’t even be checking each other. Ivan’s a great player though; he’s got the ability to dominate a game.”
Just ask Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas).
Rabb scored 30 points and grabbed 20 rebounds in the Dragons’ 63-55 win over the Gaels, who were ranked No. 4 at the time, on Nov. 29. Those numbers are even more impressive when you consider that Rabb, who is averaging 26 points and 15 rebounds a game this season, dominated a frontline of probable McDonald’s All Americans Chase Jeter, a Duke signee who is ranked No. 9 in the ESPN 100, and Stephen Zimmerman, an undecided center who is ranked No. 10.
Simmons has been equally as dominant this season, averaging 31 points, 10 rebounds and six assists a game.
“I don’t think it’ll go like people think because we probably won’t go head-up too much,” Rabb said. “It definitely could be a fun matchup though.”
It wouldn’t be the first time either.
The last time the two squared off was the LeBron James Skills Academy in July, and, yes, they guarded each other for the better part of the game. The general consensus was that Simmons won the matchup in the first half and Rabb, whose team eventually won the game, got the nod in the second half.
“It was pretty competitive,” Rabb recalled. “We both had to make adjustments because it was our first time playing against each other. The toughest thing for me was to guarding him on the perimeter; I had to learn how to take different angles and things like that. I know it was tough for him to guard me on the block. It was fun.”
When asked if a nationally televised win over the No. 1 player who plays on the No. 1 team would increase he and his teammates’ confidence for the season, Rabb was quick to point out that he’s not in need of a confidence boost.
“It’d probably be bigger for role players or guys who aren’t used to playing in big games like this,” he said. “I think that could help them gain a lot more confidence, but, for me, I’m always confident no matter what.”
Simmons too; makes sense for a player who has technically never lost a high school game since arriving at Montverde. The Eagles’ loss to Curie (Chicago) last January was reversed after the Condors were forced to forfeit the season due to playing ineligible players.
“I could have three points and five rebounds and miss most of my shots and if we win I’ll be happy,” Simmons said. “That’s the only thing that matters to me. That’s it.”
Rabb’s bottom line is similarly simple.
“It’s not about me and Ben,” he said. “It’s about winning the game.”
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter: @JayJayUSATODAY