Dave Simmons knew he wanted to continue playing professional basketball, he just needed to find a league that would work for him. The Bronx native was ready for a new challenge after playing a couple seasons in Central and South America following his time at Oklahoma City College. That's when he decided to move to Australia and begin a career that would span more than a decade.
It was there that Simmons met David Patrick. The two formed a lifelong friendship, with Simmons naming Patrick the godfather of his youngest of seven children. If you're wondering how a tried and true football school landed the top basketball recruit in the world, you can start right here.
Patrick got into coaching and wound up at LSU after stints at St. Mary's and the Houston Rockets. Somewhere along the way, his godson Ben Simmons blossomed into a singular talent, a player blessed with the size of a power forward, the speed of a wing and the vision of a point guard. When it came time to chose a school, it appeared Simmons never gave serious consideration to anywhere else.
This is the essential backstory for the most anticipated season of LSU basketball since the last time the Tigers landed the top recruit in the country when Shaquille O'Neal came to Baton Rouge in 1989. LSU won't have the luxury of keeping Simmons on campus for three seasons like O'Neal; everyone knows he'll be off to the NBA after this season, where it would be a shock if he's anything other than a top-two pick.
Even if Simmons' arrangement with LSU is short term by design, his presence has still had a magnetic effect. He's bringing along his former grassroots teammate and fellow McDonald's All-American Antonio Blakeney, who comes to the Tigers after a bizarre and public recruitment that originally saw him commit to Louisville. Baton Rouge native Brandon Sampson, another top 40 recruit, is also in tow after decommitting from St. John's.
Throw in some inexperienced but massive size up front in Elbert Robinson III and Darcy Malone, another possible first round NBA draft pick in junior Tim Quarterman and the veteran outside shooting that Keith Hornsby provides, and it's easy to see why the Bayou could suddenly turn hoops crazy.
Now it's Johnny Jones' job to get LSU back to the NCAA Tournament, and take advantage of the the once-in-a-career talent he'll have on his side. Jones has a 62.2 winning percentage in three seasons at LSU, but his coaching ability is still often under question. With Simmons set to be one of the best players in the country for one season, there are no more excuses.
No one is comparing Simmons to LeBron James, but the best way to optimize his talent might be by using James as a touchstone. LeBron didn't win an NBA championship until the Miami Heat stuck him at power forward, surrounded him with shooters and ran the entire offense through him. The Tigers have the pieces in place to run a similar type of system.
With Simmons largely inheriting duties typically reserved for a point guard, Jones could get away with playing the 6'6 Quarterman at lead guard. He's spent some time there in his first two seasons, anyway, and last year led LSU in assists even while often playing off the ball.
Quarterman could be poised for a huge year after finishing with 17 points, nine rebounds and seven assists in LSU's heartbreaking round of 64 loss to NC State last season. He's a capable if (up to this point) inefficient outside shooter, adept at drawing fouls and a gifted passer. Hornsby, who hit 39 percent of his threes and averaged 13.5 points per game last year, is the other definite starter, and a great fit next to Simmons.
Blakeney should also be an immediate impact player, and a possible one-and-done himself if he has a big year. He's a scoring guard who might project as a bigger Lou Williams. With defenses keyed in on Simmons, Blakeney should get lots of chances to find his own offense. Don't discount the existing rapport between those two, either.
Grey gained lots of experience last season and could also find himself in the starting lineup. Patterson -- Simmons' former high school teammate -- had a quality freshman season a year ago, too.
Bigger questions rest up front, with Elbert Robinson III needing to control his weight (he's been listed as heavy as 320 pounds in the last year) and fellow Aussie (noticing a trend here?) Darcy Malone only taking 21 shots all of last season while backing up LSU's NBA-bound front court of Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey. Just imagine if those two guys stayed around. LSU might be preseason No. 1.
The good news for LSU is that the defense has improved in each of Jones' three years at the helm, going from 114 to 63 to 32 according to KenPom's defensive efficiency rankings. Much of last year's improvement could be traced to Mickey, who will be wearing a Boston Celtics jersey this season. Without their defensive anchor, can LSU still get stops when it counts?
Much will depend on how the two big men develop. Robinson III was a four-star recruit out of the class of 2014 (No. 60 overall, per ESPN), but only played 68 minutes all of last season. Conditioning will be his main focus especially as Simmons looks to push the ball in every transition opportunity.
Malone played 216 minutes last season, but didn't crack double digits in seven of his last eight games. He also often found himself in foul trouble during LSU's 3-2 exhibition tour in Australia. Aaron Epps, a 6'9 junior who also barely played last season, should also see a bigger role.