Ben Simmons journeyed almost 10,000 miles from his native Australia to play prep basketball in the U.S., but earlier today the Montverde Academy (Montverde, Fla.) senior reached the destination he’d always aimed for when he was named the 2014-15 Gatorade National Boys Basketball Player of the Year. NBA Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins snuck into the Eagles’ locker room to surprise him with the news.
“I’ve been thinking about this award since freshman year,” said Simmons, 18, an LSU commit. “You always look forward to accomplishing the goals you set for yourself, but to have actually done it is a like a weight off my shoulders. I’ve worked so hard for this moment.”
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.
“You don’t often see kids like this,” said Wilkins, 55, a nine-time All-Star during his 15 pro seasons. “To win this award shows you how well-rounded Ben is, and to me, that’s more exciting than him being a great basketball player. There’s a humanitarian component going on here and that’s what it’s all about.”
Simmons has maintained a B average in the classroom. He has volunteered on behalf of Basketball Buddies literacy-outreach and as part of a study skills initiative for Montverde elementary students. He has also donated his time as a life skills and study skills guest speaker and mentor in his native Australia.
“Ben is a difference-maker,” said Paul Biancardi, ESPN Basketball National Director of Recruiting. “His game touches so many different categories as he makes an impact with his positional size, versatile scoring ability, rebounding and shot-blocking talent. His versatility is his calling card, but what separates him from his peers is his passing ability. He possesses the vision to see the open man and the willingness to make the pass, as well as the accuracy and understanding to make the play.”
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.
The Gatorade Player of the Year award recognizes outstanding athletic excellence as well as high standards of academic achievement and exemplary character demonstrated on and off the court. Simmons is now a finalist for the Gatorade Male High School Athlete of the Year award. USA TODAY High School Sports administrates the nationwide selection process in collaboration with Gatorade.
A dual-citizen, Simmons becomes the second Floridian to win Gatorade national honors in boys basketball, joining Phoenix Suns guard Brandon Knight (Pine Crest School, Boca Raton), a two-time Gatorade national winner from 2009-11. In all, 21 Florida natives have won Gatorade national honors throughout the award’s 30-year history. Simmons joins a distinguished list of national-winner alumni from the Sunshine State, including NFL Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith (Escambia, Pensacola), who won in 1987, Olympic gold medalist Sanya Richards-Ross (née Richards; St. Thomas Aquinas, Ft. Lauderdale), the 2002 winner in track, and Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke (Apopka), who also won in 2002.
California, with 63, has produced the most Gatorade national winners across the program’s 12 sports, followed by Texas (29), Florida, Illinois (15) and Indiana (13).