NEW YORK – Montverde (Fla.) Academy forward Ben Simmons is a polite, well-spoken young man. Maybe too polite on the court.
When Curie (Chicago) center Cliff Alexander, who is headed to Kansas next year, dominated Simmons late in a game this season at the Hoophall Classic in Springfield, Mass., Montverde coach Kevin Boyle had a word with his talented 6-9, 230-pound junior.
“I challenged him after that game with Curie,” Boyle said. “I told him, as good as you are, you really didn’t compete like I’ve seen you compete in practice. When Cliff came on strong, you backed away a bit, like you didn’t want to get dunked on, like you didn’t want to get in the picture with him, and you can’t have that. Great players get dunked on. You have to compete with them, you have to bang with them and you have to be just as tough. I think he responded to that.”
Saturday, Simmons showed what he can do on a big stage. Playing in Madison Square Garden, Simmons had 24 points, 12 rebounds and five assists to lead No. 1 Montverde to a 71-62 defeat of No. 7 Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) in the championship of the DICK’S Sporting Goods National High School Tournament.
“They have Simmons inside, who is a beast and is tough to play,” Oak Hill coach Steve Smith said. “You have to guard a guy like that for 32 minutes, but that’s hard. His quickness hurt Rock (Oak Hill center Rokas Gustys) sometimes. We tried to double Simmons in the post, but (Simmons) would pass out of it and find the open cutter.”
Simmons, who is from Melbourne, Australia, said the more physical style of play in the United States has taken some getting used to.
“Coming over here for some camps like Pangos (All-American camp), you really notice the difference in the physicality of the players,” Simmons said. “You really have to adjust.”
It was the second consecutive national championship for Montverde (28-0) and Simmons, a junior who has said he will sign next year with Louisiana State, is the key if the Eagles are to three-peat.
“He’ll be the only (starter) returning,” Boyle said. “We’ll have, I’m sure, a really good team, but it will be new to them. The motivation for them will be there. For him, it’s about building a legacy.”