of the LSU Tigers in the game against the Kentucky Wildcats at Rupp Arena on March 5, 2016 in Lexington, Kentucky.

Ben Simmons: Head of the Class?

March means one thing in my universe and the universes of most people like me: madness.  I wish my first NCAA Basketball column for the month could be something positive, like how this could be the year Villanova goes very deep into the tournament.  I can’t do that.  I need to address something that has needed to be talked about for quite some time, apparently.

It is no secret that LSU freshman Ben Simmons will most likely be the #1 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft this summer.  In 31 games for the Tigers, Simmons has averaged 19.6 points, 11.9 rebounds, and 5.0 assists per game, while shooting 56-percent from the field.

During his freshman (and likely only collegiate campaign), Simmons has over 20 double-doubles, a 43 point, 14 rebound performance, and a 21 point, 20 rebound performance.

Simmons clearly has the “athlete” part his “student-athlete” job down. NBA teams who could have the #1 pick—including our own Philadelphia 76ers—are eagerly awaiting his arrival in the hopes that he can continue his collegiate dominance at the next level.  That’s always easier said than done, of course.

There’s another aspect to Simmons that has only made headlines recently: the “student” part of his job.  There have been many reports that the LSU freshman was missing classes (or just purposely not going).  This was a problem that LSU solved by benching Simmons for all of four minutes in a game against Tennessee last month.  At least Simmons admits to it per his interview with USA Today after being named their Freshman of the Year:

I think it was just little things like missing a couple of classes and things like that. And then it gets brought up. If it was somebody else, it may not have been brought up. Now, it’s one of those things that’s everywhere. But I’m not worried about that right now.

[…]

You don’t go to some classes. You miss some classes, and you’re going to get punished. That’s how they handle it. I learned from it. I go to class now.

Let’s dissect this.

“If it was somebody else, it may not have been brought up.”

Simmons kind of has a point there.  It may not have been brought up if the media attention surrounding academic issues involved a fifth or sixth rotation guy for a team in a mid-major conference.  You’re a star player in a power conference, though, Benjamin.

You were pegged as the #1 pick in the NBA Draft before you even stepped on the court for LSU.  When that’s the case, a player like Simmons has to be completely mindful of his p’s and q’s.

“You miss some classes, and you’re going to get punished.”

You think being benched for four minutes in a game is a punishment, Ben?  There are kids that get kicked out of college for habitually missing classes.  That is punishment.  You got a stern finger wag.

In a game last weekend against the Kentucky Wildcats—a game that the Tigers lost—fans at Rupp Arena chanted “GPA! GPA! GPA!” at Simmons when he was at the free throw line.  (This was an act of genius in its simplicity, by the way.)

The jeering was completely warranted and fair given the news about Simmons’s academic transgressions.

Players like Simmons—the “one-and-done” crop—are products of a situation that they have no control over.  The NBA has mandated that players can no longer jump to the NBA straight out of high school. LeBron James was the last one.

Since James, there have been several athletes that have chosen to go college for one campaign and bolt.  Simmons has been a bit of a different case because of the more extreme nature of his academic failures.

Now, I can’t speculate as to if other “one-and-done” players have had academic problems, but this is the first time I can remember it being this big of a national media issue.  This is getting discussed, now, and there are people on both sides arguing solutions.

My personal solution is that a kid should go pro out of high school if he and the NBA feel he would be ready.  Just make sure you’re ready to accept the consequences if you fail.  That was YOUR decision.  If a kid wants to go to college, however, then that “student-athlete” must maintain a 2.0 GPA (a C average) during those two years towards a degree in something.  (If you’re thinking about a career where you’ll be handling a lot of money, I suggest any kind of business program: accounting, business, something.)

Here’s another sidenote for kids that plan to do my two-year plan (or future one-and-done kids if no changes are made).  If that’s your plan, there’s a short list of coaches that make sense.  You learn the game from some of the best.  That list is as follows:

  • John Calipari, Kentucky
  • Rick Pitino, Louisville (although he isn’t the biggest fan of “one and done” players)
  • Mike Krzyzewski, Duke
  • Roy Williams, UNC
  • Sean Miller, Arizona
  • Tom Izzo, Michigan State

I may be missing a few more, so I apologize, but do you know who isn’t on that list? Johnny Jones, the head coach at LSU. If you’re only going to be at school for a year (or two in my plan), learn from one of the best, and not someone that’s never been past the second round of the NCAA tournament.

The talent that Simmons possesses is undeniable, but his lackadaisical approach to the other aspect of his job as a student-athlete makes me pause.

There are those that say things like, “Well, he didn’t go to college to go to school. He went to prepare for his career as an NBA basketball player.”  That’s fine if you want to make that argument, but it shouldn’t be an excuse to not go to class.  If you’re working for a company where you have two responsibilities, but only really care about one aspect, you’ll still get fired for not giving a damn about the other.

I also question Simmons’s desire to better his craft.  It’s no secret that he lacks an NBA-ready jump shot, and that reminds everyone of a young Blake Griffin.

Griffin eventually learned that he had to have a consistent mid-range jumper to get defenses to play off of him.  It’s fine if Simmons wants to use his athleticism and basketball IQ to get to the basket whenever he wants, but it leaves him one-dimensional.

When Griffin learned how to knock down that 15-18′ jump shot with regularity, he became borderline unstoppable on offense.  I question whether or not Simmons is willing to do that.  Will he be too stubborn to realize it?  If he is, he becomes DeAndre Jordan, and Jordan is not a franchise all-star.

I’m not saying that is the destiny of Simmons.  I’m simply raising the concern that this could be a red flag.  COULD.  BE.

Whoever is doing the draft interviews really needs to get into Simmons’s head to see where it’s at in terms of learning the game, getting better at his craft, and becoming the transcendent talent that so many people think he is.  If he went to college to prepare for an NBA career, then after one year at LSU, I’m saying he isn’t ready.  Put him back in the oven.

About Adio Royster

Adio Royster is a B.A. Journalism graduate of San Diego State University. He has been writing for Total Sports Live since 2013.

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