On Tuesday morning, Montverde Academy (Montverde, Fl.) senior Ben Simmons was named the 2014-15 Gatorade National Boys Basketball Player of the Year.
The 6-foot-10, 220-pound Australian-born forward walked into the lockerroom around 9:30 a.m., he says. Only his coach was there, but as they walked through to the gym, he was met by a surprise ceremony honoring his acheivements on the court and off. Nine-time NBA All-Star Dominique Wilkins was even there to hand him the trophy.
"It was great, he’s a great kid," Wilkins told Yahoo Sports. "I don’t look just at his basketball. Academically as well as socially, this kid is a wonderful human being, has a great personality, couldn’t ask for a better."
Now in its 30th year, the award honors students who show exemplary skills on the court, as well as community service and academic excellence. Simmons was selected from a pool of nearly 440,000 high school boys basketball players across the country.
Simmons averaged 28 points and 11.9 rebounds as he led the Eagles to a 28-1 record this year. They'll play for the Dick's Sporting Goods National High School Tournament title on April 2. Off the court, he's active with the Basketball Buddies literacy-outreach program and works with elementary school students in Monteverde. He's also a McDonald's All-American Game selectee and the Jordan Brand Classic invitee. He'll play at LSU next season.
Simmons joins quite the group, including Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Kevin Love, Greg Oden, Dwight Howard, LeBron James, Al Harrington, Kobe Bryant, Stephon Marbury, Chris Webber, and Alonzo Mourning. Since the award was first handed out in 1986, all but one (LaVell Blanchard) have made it to the NBA.
"It means a lot, you’re part of history now, just being part of a bunch of names," he told Yahoo Sports. "It means a lot. The goal is [the NBA], but that’s a long way away."
When they met on Tuesday, Wilkins encouraged Simmons to take it one step at a time.
"The thing is take your time, take your time, work hard, make sure academically you keep the same focus," Wilkins told him. "It will come when it’s supposed to come, just stay grounded and I think that’s the biggest thing."