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-foot-10 with a 7-footer's wingspan. The 19-year-old moves with the fluidity of a point guard and sends passes with great vision. He can rebound like a forward and attacks the basket with athleticism.
Marc J. Spears, who covers the NBA for Yahoo Sports, said Simmons is "probably the closest thing to LeBron James since LeBron James." Simmons is pegged by almost every mock draft to be the first pick in the NBA draft in June, a selection that the 76ers are desperately trying to own.
Simmons grew up in Australia as the son of an American professional basketball player who played Down Under for Sixers head coach Brett Brown. 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 6 assists through his first seven games. He scored 43 points Wednesday against North Florida. His glaring weakness is a consistent jumper. Each of his 15 field goals on Wednesday came from inside the lane.
All 24 of LSU's remaining contests will be aired on cable TV, making Simmons' games appointment viewing for Sixers fans hoping to catch a glimpse of the future. He is the dangling carrot that could make a horrid season worth the pain.
"It's been crazy from my sophomore year at Montverde to until now," Simmons told reporters in October. "It's gotten a lot bigger. A little overwhelming for some people, but I enjoy it."
The closest Simmons would get this season to Philadelphia was last month, when his Tigers spent the week leading up to Thanksgiving in 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, including 76ers general manager Sam Hinkie. Simmons insisted that it was just another game.
"He's a very unique player. 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 Sixers are on pace to finish with the league's worst record, but even 81 losses would not guarantee Simmons. The team has to bring a little luck to May's draft lottery, in which they could finish with as many as four first-round picks.
The Sixers will own the Lakers pick as long as it is not a top-three selection. Los Angeles holds the league's second-worst mark. Miami's pick will belong to the Sixers, unless it is a top-10 pick. And the Sixers will receive Oklahoma City's pick, as long as it is not a top-15 choice. Miami and Oklahoma City are leading their divisions, which makes it likely that their picks will belong to Hinkie.
The Sixers also have the right to trade their pick with Sacramento if the Kings receive a better selection inside the top 10. It is the most important draft of Hinkie's tenure. And it all starts at the top, which is why the general manager traveled to Brooklyn last month to get his own glimpse of "Ben from Melbourne, Australia."