Tournament of Champions: Simmons earns time in spotlight

Tournament of Champions: Simmons earns time in spotlight

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Tournament of Champions: Simmons earns time in spotlight

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It has not taken long for Ben Simmons to make his presence felt in the United States.

And if you believe his coach at Montverde (Fla.), the Australian could become a name known across the globe.

Here’s what Boyle, one of the most high-profile prep coaches in the country has to say about Simmons, a 6-foot-9 junior forward playing his first season for the Eagles, the nation’s top team:

“He might be the best (high school) player in the country right now, and he’s just tapping the surface,” said Boyle, who is bringing Montverde and Simmons back to the 30th Bass Pro Tournament of Champions, scheduled tonight through Saturday at JQH Arena.

“He has a chance to be a top-five guy in the pros. Of course, he’s young, and this relies on things like dedication and staying humble,” Boyle added. “But all things being equal, I could see in the future that he’s not just an all-star, but he’s one of the elite guys in the game.”

Boyle said he doesn’t just give away praise like that, and the last time he spoke so highly of one of his players, folks laughed when he said Kyrie Irving could be the best point guard to ever come out of New Jersey.

The Cleveland Cavaliers star guard is on his way toward proving his old St. Patrick’s High School coach prophetic.

Besides, he’s not alone in the high praise for Simmons.

ESPN calls Simmons the No. 4 recruit in the junior class, while Rivals.com has him slotted No. 6. He’s probably the headliner this weekend for the Tournament of Champions, an annual festival providing a look at some of basketball’s elite future.

Montverde arrived last year as the No. 2 team in the country for Boyle’s first trip to Springfield. His Eagles were upset by Fairfax (Va.) Paul VI, 69-67, on a buzzer-beater from Kevin Dorsey in the final.

Many of the players from last year are gone, to big freshman seasons at places like Florida, Kentucky and West Virginia. But Boyle has reloaded his Orlando-area program and sit 15-0 and at the top of the USA TODAY Super 25 rankings entering the weekend.

Simmons has lived up to the hype surrounding him when he moved from Australia early last year to enroll at Montverde.

He attended the Tournament of Champions with the Eagles last season but was deemed ineligible for the season because he didn’t arrive in Florida in time for the beginning of the semester.

“I think I’ve been trying to contribute as much as possible,” Simmons said Wednesday. “We’re a strong defensive team, and it’s about everyone being enthusiastic and the bench being deep, too. And it helps for us (post players) having the skills to play in the backcourt.”

The future is bright for Simmons, and likewise, Louisiana State, which he committed to before this season, spurning finalists Kansas, Kentucky and Duke.

Simmons, whose father Dave played professionally in Australia, said he was drawn to the Tigers because of an immediate connection with coach Johnny Jones.

In addition, his godfather David Patrick is an LSU assistant, and played with the elder Simmons professionally in Australia.

But it’s not like Montverde opponents can focus solely on Simmons. Boyle’s team features seven other Division I commits, including six alone in the senior class.

Senior D’Angelo Russell is an Ohio State commit and ranked No. 21 in his class by Rivals.com.

While his team doesn’t have the broad shoulders and pure strength from last year as Devin Williams (West Virginia) and Dakari Johnson (Kentucky), Boyle said his frontcourt has more length and athleticism.

“Defensively, we’re definitely better,” Boyle said. “We’re quicker on all five spots. We’re still big, and we can turn you over. But obviously, this weekend, playing against better guards, we won’t get quite same amount of turnovers as we have all season.”

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