Montverde Academy forward named 2015 Grassroots Hoops Mr. Basketball USA, Florida’s first ever honoree. Simmons is the first consensus choice since LeBron James in 2003.
Just as teams do at the college and pro levels, the relative strength of high school basketball teams and players vary year to year. While many long-time high school observers felt 2014-15 was a “down year” with regards to the talent level of the nation’s best teams, there was still great individual talent on display across the country.
This season Montverde Academy (Montverde, Fla.) won its third consecutive mythical national title, the first program to do that in the modern era of weekly national basketball rankings. And while the Eagles’ team may not have been as strong this season as it was the previous two, there was one constant force: 6-foot-9 forward Ben Simmons. And his presence helped Montverde Academy stay consistently atop the FAB 50 for a vast majority of the past two seasons. Regardless of circumstance or strength of teams, you can’t finish any better than No. 1.
Simmons’ talent level, and the production that led to his team’s dominance among the nation’s top teams, today earns him the 2014-15 Grassroots Hoops Mr. Basketball USA title.
Simmons, a native of Australia and LSU recruit, is the first ever Mr. Basketball USA honoree from a Florida program. The landscape of high school basketball is rapidly changing. Many of the nation’s top players don’t attend traditional high schools anymore and there is more foreign-born talent in America’s high school ranks than ever before. Simmons’ honor reflects that change.
In the first 59 years of the Mr. Basketball USA honor, there was one foreign-born national player of the year choice: Dominican Republic-born Felipe Lopez of now defunct Rice High in New York City for the 1993-94 season. Simmons is the second foreign-born selection of the past three seasons. Andrew Wiggins, now with the Minnesota Timberwolves and a native of Canada, was the 2013 honoree at Huntington Prep (Huntington, W. Va.).
Simmons made his American debut at the Pangos All-American Camp in June of 2012. It was evident at that event Simmons, who attended Box Hill in Melbourne, Australia before enrolling at Montverde Academy in January 2013, would be a big-time college basketball player. His touch and feel around the basket and knack for getting to the correct spots on the floor stood out. He’s expanded his game each season since.
When Simmons first arrived in America, he told us the only schools he knew anything about were Duke and Texas. It wouldn’t take long before those two schools and every other major power in the country was actively recruiting him. How good is Simmons? Consider this statement from Montverde Academy head coach Kevin Boyle about his southpaw forward entering his junior season.
“Duke was in here and told me the two best players in the country are Jahlil Okafor and Ben,” Boyle said.
Both were first five All-Americans last season. Simmons was named National Junior of the Year. This season, Okafor was a key cog on Duke’s NCAA title winning team. Simmons averaged 27.1 points, 11.6 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game for a 31-1 team. While Montverde Academy had some close calls, and did lose one game to No. 12 Wheeler (Marietta, Ga.), Simmons realistically had no peer nationally.
Jaylen Brown, Wheeler’s best player, consistently finished No. 2 behind Simmons in this season’s Mr. Basketball USA Tracker process. Brown finished 35 points behind Simmons in the final tracker and garnered two second-place votes. Simmons was the first national player of the year candidate to collect a first place vote on every ballot (a perfect 100 points) in a single tracker — and he accomplished that feat wire-to-wire.
Simmons is the first consensus national player of the year since NBA superstar LeBron James of St. Vincent-St. Mary (Akron, Ohio) in 2003. Lopez also was a consensus pick and there has only been seven prior to Simmons dating back to 1955.
“Ben affects the game on both ends of the floor, especially on offense,” said Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) coach Steve Smith, whose program lost to Montverde Academy in the Dick’s Nationals title game the past two seasons. “He can play multiple positions and score the ball inside and out. Honestly, I think his best skill is his ability to pass the basketball and create offense for his teammates. I like the fact as good as he is, he is an unselfish player who puts winning over any individual accomplishment.”
For the all-time list of Mr. Basketball USA honorees, CLICK HERE.