A foregone conclusion for months is now official: LSU's Ben Simmons is NBA-bound.
The favorite to be taken No. 1 overall this June told ESPN late Sunday night that he is hiring an agent and declaring for the NBA draft. Adrian Wojnarowski of the Vertical reported last week Simmons plans to sign with the LeBron James-funded Klutch Sports agency for his pro representation.
Simmons' lone college season will be remembered both for his remarkable individual achievements and his team's spectacular failures.
Before Simmons even arrived at LSU, the school breathlessly hyped his freshman season by making him the centerpiece of a promotional blitz featuring everything from billboards, to print and social media advertising. The "25 is Coming" campaign was such a blatant reference to Simmons' jersey number that LSU didn't even bother to pretend otherwise.
Simmons largely exceeded expectations from a statistical standpoint, averaging 19.2 points, 11.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game. The 6-foot-10 Australian native became a SportsCenter staple almost immediately because he could do things others his size could not, from leading a fast break, to delivering pinpoint no-look passes, to attacking the rim himself.
But while Simmons was throwing down YouTube-worthy dunks and dishing out Vine-worthy assists, LSU was assembling an NIT-level resume. The coaching staff could not seem to figure out how to get the most out of a roster that included Simmons, fellow five-star freshman Antonio Blakeney, pro prospect Tim Quarterman and former Arizona transfer Craig Victor.
LSU lost non-conference games against the likes of Charleston, Houston, Wake Forest, Marquette and NC State, none of whom so much as contended for the NCAA tournament. The Tigers spent most of SEC play yo-yoing between the thick of the bubble picture and the fringes of it before falling off altogether with a three-game losing streak against mediocre competition in late February and a listless 71-38 loss to Texas A&M in the SEC quarterfinals.
Simmons' uninspired late-season play and poor body language earned him criticism. He could be the first No. 1 overall pick to play college basketball and not make the NCAA tournament in his draft year since Pacific's Michael Olowokandi in 1998.
That will be the lasting memory of Simmons' college career, but it will be a mere footnote in his overall legacy if he fully taps into his potential at the NBA level.
This is a player whose combination of athleticism, ball handling, rebounding and court vision compares very favorably to Lamar Odom at similar stages of their careers. If Simmons can develop a perimeter jump shot and become a more consistent defender, he has a chance to be a very, very successful NBA player.
- - - - - - -