LSU phenom Ben Simmons makes his introduction to college hoops fans in Brooklyn

AP Photo

AP Photo

He’s simultaneously the biggest name and biggest unknown in college basketball, a star who lit up marquees and boosted TV ratings even before he played his first game.

Freshman sensation Ben Simmons is the latest NBA All-Star-in-waiting, serving his one year of college duty at LSU. He made his introduction to basketball fans this week at the Legends Classic in Brooklyn, first with a 21-point, 20-rebound showing against Marquette and then with a 4-point, 16-rebound, 10-assist, 3-steal, 3-block smorgasboard against NC State.

LSU lost to Marquette, 81-80, and then fell to NC State, 83-72, in overtime, but that was mostly because Simmons’ teammates aren’t the Kentucky Wildcats.

The 6-9, 240-pound point-power forward already has an NBA body. He’s simultaneously a power forward and a point guard, like a Dale Davis-LeBron James hybrid. Obviously, he’s no LeBron–but he is the odds-on-favorite to be the top pick in next year’s NBA Draft, and was named a preseason All-American.

He’s also got termendous court vision, a prodigious rebounding ability, and a bullish want to take the ball coast-to-coast. He’s not a spectacular shooter, and doesn’t look for his shot quite enough, but he’s got a good stroke and he’s got a knock-down jumper in his future.

On one occasion against Marquette, Simmons skied above congestion in the paint for a rebound, bouncing effortlessly off the floor. He grabbed the ball, took a long first dribble and raced down the court, uncontested, for a coast-to-coast layup.

He did have weaknesses–his defensive awareness wasn’t great, as he ran away from NC State point guard Cat Barber with less than a minute to play in regulation, giving the lightning-quick guard an open lane to the rim and the Wolfpack a 65-63 lead. He made up for it, though, with a fearless drive to the rim to tie the game at 65 on the next possession.

He also tried to pass too much, chucking a cross-court chest pass to a semi-0pen teammate who was behind the three point line in the closing seconds of the Marquette loss, when he could have driven to the basket for a game-tying bucket.

But Simmons is just a 19-year-old freshman, and he’s got basketball in his genes. His father Dave played 13 seasons in the Australian Basketball League.  The family moved to the U.S. just to attend Monteverde Academy in Florida, a basketball powerhouse.

Sure, in today’s day and age, you don’t earn stardom in college basketball. It just comes to you, like it came to Andrew Wiggins and Cliff Alexander both.

But based on these two games in Brooklyn, Ben Simmons deserves it regardless.

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