Montverde Academy (Montverde, Fla.) senior Ben Simmons was today named the 2014-15 Gatorade National Boys Basketball Player of the Year. The 6-foot-9, 230-pound forward has led the Eagles to a 28-1 record and a berth in the Dick’s Sporting Goods National High School Tournament, scheduled for April 2. Simmons is averaging 28 points and 11.9 rebounds per game while shooting 71 percent from inside the arc. Simmons has posted season averages of four assists and 2.6 steals per game and has registered 24 double-doubles. He was named to USA TODAY’s American Family Insurance ALL-USA Preseason First Team.
The nation’s consensus No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2015, Simmons also won the Morgan Wootten Award and the Naismith Trophy this season. He’s a McDonald’s All-American Game selection as well as a Jordan Brand Classic invitee. A left-hander, Simmons returns to the Dick’s Sporting Goods nationals as the tournament’s reigning Most Valuable Player, having also earned MVP honors at the NBA Players Association Top 100 Camp last summer. A native of Melbourne, Austrailia, he helped the Aussies win the silver medal at the 2012 FIBA U17 World Championships and led the national team to the 2013 FIBA Oceania Championship for Men.
We sat down with Simmons, an LSU commit, to better understand how he outshined 541,000 high school basketball players nationwide to win the award.
Q: Most folks probably don’t realize that you could already be in the NBA, but by enrolling in a U.S. high school as a sophomore, you unwittingly subjected yourself to the NBA’s 19-year-old age minimum for draft eligibility. We’re guessing you wouldn’t trade your Montverde experience if you could rewind the clock, is that right?
A: Definitely not. This has been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be here at Montverde and have a chance to play high school ball in the U.S., then go to college. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
Q: Sports Illustrated called you the best passing big man since Kevin Love [another Gatorade National POY] came out of high school in 2007. We know part of that is the pass-first international game, but you’re unique even in that context. Why?
A: I think it’s both natural and a mindset. It’s about watching how the game should be played. You dream of making great passes that nobody sees coming and I strive to do that all the time.
Q: You are the youngest talent ever to play for the Australian National Team, but the Boomers’ head coach was most impressed by the class you showed when you didn’t make the selection for last summer’s FIBA World Cup. How did you manage to take that in stride?
A: Of course, in my eyes, I always feel like I should make a team. But you move on and try to get better and set your next goal.
Q: There’s an ease and fluidity to your game that reminds us of some of the great NYC ballers of years’ past. You’re dad is from the Bronx. Is that his influence we’re seeing?
A: I think there is a stringy fluidity to my game that helps that impression, but maybe a little bit of that is about my dad’s childhood.
Q: Because [childhood friend and fellow Aussie Dante] Exum plays there, do you have to be a Utah Jazz fan?
A: Definitely not. I always hope that he plays well, though. I don’t really (follow) a particular team and I definitely wish him the best, but I guess, if anything, I’m a bit of a Knicks fan because my dad grew up watching them.
Q: You were born during the Opening Ceremonies of the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games. Are you destined to be in Rio for Brazil 2016 by birthright?
A: Maybe. Of course, you can never be sure. But everything happens for a reason.
Q: NBA Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins surprised you with the trophy today, but he played his last season (with the Orlando Magic) when you were an infant. Knowing your dad’s relationship with the history of the pro game, we suspect you were well aware of who his is when he showed up today?
A: Absolutely. You always hear about his highlight-reel dunks He’s a legend. It’s just crazy that he is here to present the trophy.
Q: Serving as an informal recruiting liaison for LSU, you’re 1-for-3, helping to snag Oak Ridge (Orlando, Fla.) five-star guard Antonio Blakeney, while his Oak Ridge teammate Alex Owens went with Providence College and your own teammate Noah Dickerson committed to Florida. You have anything else up your sleeve for the Tigers?
A: Hmm, I guess we’ll have to wait and see.