LSU basketball has landed arguably the best player in the country.
Longtime commitment Ben Simmons put pen to paper Wednesday afternoon in a school assembly at Montverde Academy in Florida, inking a National Letter of Intent to play his college ball in Baton Rouge and scoring a major victory for the Bayou Bengals on the hardwood.
“It’s a massive deal for Johnny Jones and the Tigers,” explained Evan Daniels, Scout.com director of basketball recruiting. “Simmons is a versatile forward that can impact the game in so many ways. He’s strong, physical, aggressive and is a terrific passer.”
The native of Melbourne, Australia, who stands nearly 6-foot-10 and at 235 pounds can play in the post and on the perimeter, does bring all of that. A two-time national champion at Montverde, he also gives instant credibility to the program Jones is building at his alma mater.
But, historically, just how loudly does Simmons’ signing at LSU resonate?
“He’s the best (LSU signee) since Shaquille O’Neal,” Ricky Blanton, former LSU great and current radio analyst for Tiger basketball, said without hesitation. “First I think he’s the top recruit in the country. Second he can dominate a game.
“I think the impact is similar in that both of them change the game when they play. When you think about playing with one of these guys, they change everything. Obviously Shaq changed things in a different way, but Ben can still take over because he’s so versatile.”
As venerable LSU basketball publicist Kent Lowe recalls, the buzz around young Shaquille O’Neal joining Dale Brown’s program in 1989 was palpable, but given the cast of characters already in place the situation felt slightly different.
“Shaquille was No. 2 at that time because that was Kenny Anderson’s year,” Lowe remembered. “And of course there were a lot of people who wondered if he was the best player on LSU’s roster. Stanley [Roberts] was going to play his first year that year after sitting out his freshman season. Then there was a Freshman All-American and SEC Player of the Year coming back (in Chris Jackson), so there was a lot of attention on that team.”
There’s one other player Lowe is quick to toss out in the conversation of “best LSU basketball recruit since.”
“Randy Livingston, if I remember correctly, was in a year where Rasheed Wallace and Jerry Stackhouse were coming out in 1993. But Livingston was the Naismith and the Gatorade National Player of the Year coming out of high school. Obviously there was a lot of hype for him, a New Orleans guy.”
Still, all respect to the Isidore Newman product, there was Shaq and now there’s Simmons.
“He’s 6-10 and versatile. You don’t see that every day,” Blanton continued. “Here’s the football analogy: He’s the 6-4, 290-pound defensive lineman that can run. Versatile and athletic, there’s a premium on guys like him.”
So much so that Blanton argues it has become even more difficult for a non-traditional power like LSU to reel in a fish Simmons’ size.
“Landing the No. 1 recruit in any sport is much different now than it was say 15 years ago because of the opportunity for every school to evaluate all the players,” said Blanton. “There’s really no diamond in the rough anymore, if you will. These kids get a lot of exposure early in high school. When they identify a talent like Ben Simmons, every school goes after him and they’re very aggressive in their recruiting of him.”
Good thing for LSU that Simmons’ godfather David Patrick is associate head coach and the lead recruiter on Jones’ staff. Ditto that former Montverde teammate Jalyn Patterson is a freshman guard for the 2014-15 Tigers. Those are the kinds of ties needed to bring the next Shaq, at least in terms of impact, to campus.
Of course Simmons is still 1,941 points and 1,217 rebounds away from Diesel territory in the purple and gold. Not that he’ll ever reach those numbers it took Shaq three years to compile.
“I’m not sure of Ben’s thought and his family’s thought,” Blanton mused, “but without a doubt if the old rule was in effect where they could go out of high school, I feel confident Ben would be a lottery pick out of high school.”
Instead he’ll spend a season, and it’s hard to imagine much more, lacing ‘em up for LSU, which has to feel like it won the lottery on Wednesday.
Cherish it while it lasts. It’s been 26 years since the Tigers scratched off a winner like Simmons.
Get to know more about Simmons and his game via video from Scout. Below is an interview with Evan Daniels from this summer's NBPA Top 100 Camp as well as footage of a younger Simmons at the 2012 Pangos All-American Camp.