LSU freshman Ben Simmons joined some impressive company Monday on The Associated Press preseason All-America team and could be with those same players at the end of the season.
The 6-foot-10 point forward from Australia, who played his high school basketball in Florida, is just the fourth freshman to be honored on the preseason team. The others—Harrison Barnes of North Carolina (2010–11), Andrew Wiggins of Kansas (2013–14), and Jahlil Okafor of Duke (2014–15)—all were high picks in the NBA draft after leaving school early.
It would be easy to imagine Simmons doing the same. He averaged 28.0 points, 11.9 rebounds, 4.0 assists and hundreds of stunned fans in his senior year of high school in Florida.
Joining Simmons on the preseason All-America team were seniors Kyle Wiltjer of Gonzaga, Georges Niang of Iowa State and Buddy Hield of Oklahoma and junior Kris Dunn of Providence.
Simmons is the latest basketball star at a football school and is drawing plenty of attention on the Baton Rouge campus.
“It’s really quite astonishing, just watching him roam around and people notice him, and just give him attention, and he’s really good about it, too. He acknowledges everybody and that's pretty cool,” teammate Keith Hornsby said. “It's fun to walk around him, even to walk about 10 feet behind him. Even when people don't talk to him, they're whispering to each other (about Simmons).”
The last LSU basketball player to draw attention like this as a freshman was Shaquille O'Neal in the early 1990s.
Tigers coach Johnny Jones knows what that was like as he was an assistant to coach Dale Brown then.
“You want to embrace it. It’s exciting,” Jones said at Southeastern Conference media day. “You’d much rather be on the side of high expectations and people thinking that you're going to be very good.”
Simmons is hoping he can draw crowds to Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
“If it’s not sold out, I’ll be kind of upset. Hopefully everyone comes out,” Simmons said. “I love seeing fans and them wanting us to win and do well. That really drives me.”
Wiltjer, who averaged 16.7 points and 6.0 rebounds last season, was the leading vote-getter, receiving 51 votes from the 65-member national media panel. He began his college career at Kentucky.
Niang, who was the runner-up with 46 votes, averaged 15.3 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.4 assists for the Cyclones last season, one that ended with a disappointing second-round loss in the NCAA Tournament.
Dunn, one of the best two-way guards in recent years, averaged 15.6 points, 5.5 rebounds, 7.5 assists and 2.7 steals. He was named on 43 ballots.
Hield, who received 40 votes, was the Sooners' scoring threat as he averaged 17.5 points and 5.5 rebounds.
Simmons rounded out the team with 27 votes, one more than Maryland’s Melo Trimble.
North Carolina's Marcus Paige, a repeat preseason All-America, was next with 20 votes. He broke his hand last week and will be out about a month.
Of the other freshman preseason selections, only Okafor was on the first team after the season. Wiggins was named to the second team and Barnes was an honorable mention.