Simmons exits LSU to go pro

Published 2:41 am Tuesday, March 22, 2016

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — LSU freshman forward Ben Simmons, who led the Tigers in scoring, rebounds and assists this season, says he is leaving the Tigers to turn pro.

Simmons, who made his announcement in an interview published Monday by ESPN, says he will soon hire an agent and enter the NBA draft, for which Simmons has been widely projected as a top overall pick. Simmons did not involve LSU in his announcement and school officials did not immediately provide any reaction to Simmons decision, but coach Johnny Jones insinuated last week that he did not expect Simmons to be back.

“It has been a joy coaching him. Ben brought a great deal of excitement to our team and our program,” Jones said last week. “I would take a one-and-done like Ben again.”

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Simmons, who grew up in Australia before moving to Florida for three years of high school at Montverde Academy, averaged 19.2 points, 11.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists this season.

Opposing coaches and NBA scouts alike have gushed over Simmons’ all-court game, vision and instincts, as well as ball-handling and passing ability seen as exceptional for a player with his 6-foot-10 height. Yet he wasn’t immune to criticism. He never demonstrated he could make jump shots consistently, rarely shooting from outside and going only 1 of 3 from 3-point range all season. He also exhibited an inclination to pass, rather than create his own shot, in the late stages of close games.

His presence raised LSU’s national exposure on television and filled seats in the stands, but did not improve his college program’s fortunes on court.

After making the NCAA Tournament the season before Simmons arrived, the Tigers finished this season 19-14, missing the tourney after failing to reach 20 victories for the first time in three years. LSU might have had a chance to reach the 20-victory mark in a post-season tournament such as the NIT, but Jones announced pre-emptively that the Tigers would not accept any invitations to post-season tournaments after they’d failed to receive a bid to the NCAA tournament.

It also remains to be seen whether Simmons will leave LSU in good academic standing. LSU was informed earlier this month that Simmons did not meet the requirements for the Wooden Award, which is presented to the nation’s top college player.

The award’s published criteria say candidates must be full-time students with consideration “given to scholastic achievement and aspirations.” Candidates also must have cumulative grade point averages of 2.0 since enrolling.

Simmons didn’t start a Feb. 20 loss at Tennessee for what Jones said then was an academic issue. And while Simmons remains eligible for other national awards, Jones did not say in his end-of-season meeting with reporters last week whether Simmons was still going to class.