Ben Simmons may have only played his first pro game a couple of short weeks ago, but he's been learning and mastering the NBA game from Professor Brett Brown since the moment he joined the Sixers organization.
Simmons has been so impressive in the first 20 games of his NBA career that he's already getting the Lee Jenkins-Sports Illustrated feature story treatment.
Jenkins makes the obvious comparisons to the great LeBron James given their size and amazing ability to see the game.
Ben and LeBron described their relationship like that of a little and big brother.
They're not the same player, as Jenkins writes, but there are plenty of similarities and a very interesting mentoring situation exists between an all-time legend and a youngster who hopes to be one and has a legit chance to see it through. There's a ton to digest in the article, like Simmons having the super-quick reflexes of the Karate Kid -- "A fly buzzes by his head and he catches it with a wave of his right hand" -- so the whole piece is worth a read for any basketball fan.
The part that I found most interesting and worth highlighting here was the education Ben went through during his season on the bench. Simmons got his Masters in Running the Point in just one year under Professor Brett Brown's tutelage.
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The debate over Simmons's position raged inside the 76ers' offices throughout the summer of 2016. Coaches finally decided on power forward, and for the first three days of training camp, that's where he stayed. The injury gave Brown time to reconsider. "I want to try something," Brown told Simmons, shortly after foot surgery. "I want to grow you as a point guard." Every few days, they met in Brown's office to watch video of LeBron James, as well as the best oversized ballhandler of all: Magic Johnson. "Here's the play," Brown would start. "What do you see? Why do you see that? Well, what read would you make? If they hedge in this pick-and-roll, tell me what's open. Tell me why." When they finished talking, Brown sent Simmons to the grease board. "Draw this play," he'd say clasping his hands. "And this," brushing his shoulder. They juxtaposed James's Finals cut-ups with Simmons's Montverde clips.
Brown had suffered 199 losses in three seasons, and was headed for 50-plus more, yet he invested all his spare time in a rehabbing rookie who wouldn't touch the floor for a year. Who knew if he'd even be employed then? During road trips, Brown asked Simmons to text him observations at half, and at home games, assistant coach Billy Lange sought him out on the bench for feedback. This was college, for somebody who didn't think much of college, as the One and Done Showtime documentary illustrated. Simmons still worries that college programs don't fully prepare their brightest members for the next step. "Getting you ready to live that lifestyle," Simmons says, "teaching you to take care of your money, take care of your body. If you're not going to pay them, at least pay them in that way."
Just another reason to love Brett Brown. And who better to model Ben's game after than LeBron and Magic?
So when you watch Simmons go out every night and do something amazing, be it a triple double or approach a rare 20-20 night, know that he wasn't simply sitting at home playing video games all of last season while his teammates worked hard in the gym. He was studying the game's all-time greats and getting quizzed by the likes of Brett Brown in real time.
"For a rookie he is extremely poised - way more poised than I ever could have imagined," veteran teammate JJ Redick said of Ben. Now you partly know why.
Strive for greatness and all that. Ben Simmons certainly is.