Before the start of the basketball season, Ben Simmons said he thought of himself as just another college freshman. The Louisiana State star labeled himself in October as simply "Ben from Melbourne, Australia."
But it was evident even then — as a horde of reporters gathered around him at the Southeastern Conference's media day — that Simmons was much more than an import from a faraway land. He is a basketball player with the rarest of skill sets. He is 6-10 with a 7-footer's wingspan. The 19-year-old moves with the fluidity of a point guard and passes with great vision. He can rebound like a forward and attacks the basket.
Marc J. Spears, who covers the NBA for Yahoo Sports, said Simmons is "probably the closest thing to LeBron James since LeBron James."
Simmons grew up in Australia as the son of an American professional basketball player. He moved to Florida to spend his final three seasons of high school at Montverde Academy, which helped prepare him for his journey to the NBA. And for one lucky NBA team, "Ben from Melbourne, Australia" will become its franchise player.
Simmons is averaging 19.9 points, 14.9 rebounds and six assists through seven games. He scored 43 points Wednesday against North Florida, something no Tigers player had done since O'Neal in 1991.
"I definitely felt like they couldn't stop me in the post," Simmons said. "My teammates built my confidence by throwing me the ball. Once I had it, I knew where I was going."
Simmons' glaring weakness is a consistent jumper. Each of his 15 field goals on Wednesday came from inside the lane. But he is still pegged by almost every mock draft to be the first pick in the NBA draft in June.
LSU spent the week leading to Thanksgiving at a two-game tournament at Brooklyn's Barclays Center. The Tigers — a team with Simmons and little else — lost both games, but their star still impressed. Simmons made 21 points and 20 rebounds look easy against Marquette. The performance came in front of 51 NBA scouts and representatives. Simmons insisted that it was just another game.
"He's a very talented player," Marquette head coach Steve Wojciechowski said. "Because of his size and athleticism and his ability to handle the ball, he's a very unique matchup."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.