NCB On The Trail: Ben Simmons

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NEW YORK -- The Dick's Sporting Goods High School National Tournament crowned a champion on Saturday at Madison Square Garden with a familiar name as Montverde Academy (Fla.) won its second straight title, this time 71-62 over Oak Hill Academy (Va.). Over the six-year history of this prestigious event, this was the deepest field of teams and the highest level of talent from top to bottom. Montverde came in ranked as the No. 1 high school team in the country and should walk away in that top spot when the polls are finalized.

As the final high school team event of the 2013-14 season, let's take a look at five things we learned from this year's tournament:


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Who is the best high school basketball team in the country?

That question will be answered by the end of the weekend as the Dick’s Sporting Goods High School National Tournament began Thursday at New York Christ The King High School.

Huntington (W.Va.) Prep was the first team to advance to Friday’s semifinal round after ESPN 100 guard JaQuan Lyle drilled a game-winning 3-pointer with two seconds left in a 65-63 victory. Oak Hill (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) followed suit in the second act, handling Charlotte (N.C.) Northside Christian 69-60.

Las Vegas Findlay Prep looked to be on the verge of pulling away early in the second half of the third quarterfinal, but Seattle Rainier Beach came storming back, ultimately cutting the deficit to two points before Findlay was able to hang on, 67-59.

In the nightcap, Kevin Boyle made a return to the tri-state area as his Montverde (Fla.) Academy squad handled Sagemont (Fla.) 81-63 in the most lopsided game of the day.

Top Performances

[+] EnlargeMontaque Gill-Caesar
Dave Telep/ESPN.comJunior forward Montaque Gill-Ceasar helped Huntington Prep outlast La Lumiere in the Dick's Sporting Goods tourney quarterfinals.
JaQuan Lyle, Huntington Prep
Point guard, Class of 2014
6-foot-5, 215 pounds
Committed to Oregon


The first 31.5 minutes are almost an afterthought following the dynamic way in which Lyle closed the game. While he’ll be remembered for the game-winning 3-pointer he hit from the top of the key with just two seconds left and a defender draped all over him, his play on the previous possession was just as important. Huntington was trailing by one when La Lumiere (Ind.) went into a zone, hoping to confuse Huntington. Instead, Huntington got the ball to Lyle at the high post and let him go to work. He spun into the lane, attracted three defenders and dumped the ball to Thomas Bryant for an easy dunk.

Montaque Gill-Ceasar, Huntington Prep
Small forward, Class of 2015
6-6, 215
Undecided


The powerful wing might not have been the last-minute hero, but he was as efficient as anyone for Huntington. He made shots from behind the arc, moved well off the ball with curling screens and timely basket cuts and showed the versatility to bully smaller defenders on the block or score over top of them from the mid-range area. He’s a matchup nightmare because he’s so powerful for his position, but unlike most with his build, his offensive game isn’t just brute force. Therefore, almost everything he does translates to the next level.

Jalen Coleman, La Lumiere
Shooting guard, Class of 2015
6-2, 170
Undecided


Coleman didn’t have his customary shooting performance, especially in the first half, but his response to that slow start was most impressive. Even when his shots weren’t falling, he was still scoring, in large part because he was able to mix up his attack, get into the paint and get himself easy points at the free-throw line. Later on, he made a pair of huge 3-point shots with the game on the line, the last of which would have been the game-winner had it not been for Lyle’s shot.

Caleb Martin & Cody Martin, Oak Hill
Small forwards, Class of 2014
6-7, 190 and 6-7, 205
Both signed with N.C. State


Northside Christian came out of the gates with a lot of defensive intensity to catch Oak Hill off guard, but both of the Martin brothers stepped up and were critical to their team’s ability to settle down and take control of the game. Caleb was the first to respond, showing his length and smooth open-floor game to get to the rim, then following that up with a 3-pointer to get his team going. Cody was forced to take over as the team’s primarily ball-handler, where he proved be a dependable decision-maker and a valuable distributor. He asserted himself on the glass, adding 17 points to his brother’s 18. Both were an efficient 7-for-12 from the floor.

Craig Victor II, Findlay Prep
Power forward, Class of 2014
6-7, 205
Signed with Arizona


With Horace Spencer and Derryck Thornton both out of the lineup with injury and Rashad Vaughn and Kelly Oubre shaking off the cobwebs following Wednesday’s McDonald’s All-American game in Chicago, Victor stepped up to lead Findlay on Thursday. He looked a step quicker than earlier this winter, both in getting off the floor to finish around the rim and facing up his defender. He was a menace on the offensive glass, showed his soft touch on several short jumpers and even made a couple of high-level passes on the interior.

Ben Simmons, Montverde Academy
Power forward, Class of 2015
6-9, 230
Committed to LSU


Simmons was a man among boys inside the paint, not only showing off his unmatched athleticism for a variety of explosive finishes and blocks but also showing some of his more subtle tools that don’t often get as much recognition. He impressed with his quick feet and interior reflexes, the soft hands to come up with deep catches (both low and high) and the ability to get easy points by beating opposing big men from rim to rim. Once he got going, he even stepped out to hit a corner 3-pointer. Simply put, Sagemont had nobody that could come close to providing the same type of physical presence and sheer talent inside.

Semifinal Preview

Oak Hill Academy vs. Findlay Prep, 2:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2

Oak Hill received excellent production out of the Martin twins in the quarterfinals, and they’ll need that again Friday if they’re going to hold off Findlay’s one-two perimeter punch of Oubre and Vaughn. Findlay has almost no interior depth to work with, so it will need not only another big game for Victor, but help from Oubre on the glass as well. Ultimately, look for depth and tempo to become potential factors here, as Oak Hill will look to wear down a Findlay team that is currently playing with just seven players. Findlay will likely play quite a bit of zone to try to slow the game as much as possible.

Montverde Academy vs. Huntington Prep, 4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2

Montverde ran away in its quarterfinal matchup while pushing the pace at every opportunity, getting a lot of easy baskets in transition as a result. Transition defense is going to be key for Huntington, but just as importantly, it will need to take care of the ball offensively and not settle for contested jumpers that could lead to potential run-outs for Montverde. Two of the best junior big men in the country will be going head to head, as Bryant and Simmons will likely be matched up. Lyle and D'Angelo Russell will lead their respective teams on the perimeter.

Roundtable: Must-get prospects for 2015 

February, 25, 2014
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With the vast majority of the top prospects in the ESPN 100 now off the board, the focus of the recruiting world is now rapidly shifting to the 2015 class where programs from all levels of college basketball are looking to position themselves for a successful recruiting cycle.

Some are already ahead of the curve. LSU landed a huge early score in Ben Simmons (Melbourne, Australia/Montverde Academy), Arizona has its next big-time guard in Tyler Dorsey (Los Angeles/St. John Bosco) and Syracuse has a pair of ESPN 60 products in Malachi Richardson (Hamilton, N.J./Trenton Catholic) and Tyler Lydon (Pine Plains, N.Y./New Hampton).

Memphis, Michigan State, Marquette, and Illinois have early commitments from ESPN 60 products as well, while the Fighting Illini are joined by Connecticut, Washington, Villanova, New Mexico, Rutgers, and Mississippi State in already having two verbal commitments.

With the 2015 dominoes beginning to align, we asked our team of Recruiting Nation experts to pinpoint which programs have already established their top priority, or “must-have recruit,” in the coming year.


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Rankings week is here, and Wednesday our focus in on the 2015 class. Here are 10 things you need to know about the newly updated ESPN 60:


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Video: ESPN 60 PF on LSU, life in U.S.

January, 27, 2014
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Montverde Academy (Fla.) junior forward and Australia native Ben Simmons -- No. 4 overall in the ESPN 60 -- committed to LSU in October. He recently spoke with Phil Murphy at the Spalding Hoophall Classic about adjusting to life away from Australia and how recruiting has changed since he committed.
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SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- The third and final day of national competition at the Spalding Hoophall Classic brought a fitting end to what was another first class event from the Basketball Hall of Fame and Springfield College. Here’s a look at the top performers during Monday’s five-game slate:


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#AskCoachB: Top recruit in 2015

January, 7, 2014
Jan 7
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Want to ask ESPN RecruitingNation national recruiting director Paul Biancardi a question about basketball recruiting? Tweet it to @PaulBiancardi using the hashtag #AskCoachB.



I have recently seen some of the top players in the Class of 2015. At the very top of the class is No. 1 prospect Malik Newman (Jackson, Miss./Callaway), who is special as a scoring guard as he continues to grow as a player. No. 2 prospect Stephen Zimmerman (Las Vegas/Bishop Gorman) is extremely skilled and gifted and No. 3 prospect Ivan Rabb (Oakland, Calif./Bishop O'Dowd) has great size, mobility and athletic ability at the rim. All three have lived up to their billing and will continue to fight for the top spot in the class.

But the one guy I believe could have the brightest future is No. 4 prospect Ben Simmons (Melbourne, Australia/Montverde Academy). He has power forward size, bounce, speed, ball skills and an innate passing ability. He is learning to play hard on every possession, and having Kevin Boyle as his coach expedites that process.

Loaded with versatility, Simmons can be a dominant factor scoring from inside the paint, at the high post and beyond the arc. Because he is fluid handling the ball and has outstanding vision to see the open man, he could be used to lead or finish a break and be part of press offense to break pressure. As a rebounder, he could be a monster if he applies himself.

If Simmons becomes more focused and consistent, all the natural talent is there for greatness.

Cancer Research Classic recap 

January, 6, 2014
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WHEELING, West Va. -- The Cancer Research Classic is known as the nation’s premier Catholic high school event and includes very successful programs and highly-ranked prospects.

[+] EnlargeEmmanuel Mudiay
Kelly Kline/Under ArmourPG Emmanuel Mudiay had two impressive showings at the Cancer Research Classic.
Players from all over the country came in with big reputations, and they did not disappoint. The nation's No. 1 player Jahlil Okafor, No. 5 Emmanuel Mudiay and No. 12 D'Angelo Russell all shined bright. Under the direction of Doc Merrick, this event continues to grow and is recognized as a main attraction after the new year.

Best Point Guard
Emmanuel Mudiay (Dallas, Texas/Prime Prep)
2014, PG, 6'4", 195
Signed with SMU

Mudiay is known for his ability to take over games when he is plugged in. He was on in both of his performances at the CRC. He had 25 in a loss to Wheeler and 16 -- with a nice floor game -- in a loss to Whitney Young. It was a tough weekend, but Mudiay showed why he is rated as one of the top-5 talents in the 2014 class.


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Roundtable: Looking ahead to 2014 

December, 31, 2013
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As we close the door on 2013 and look forward to the year to come, there are a variety of things to look forward to in college basketball recruiting.

The potentially intriguing storylines and trends are perhaps best reflected in our team of Recruiting Nation experts, who seem to have their eyes set on something different heading into the new year.

Paul Biancardi: In the 2014 class, the point guard position is strong at the very top, but there is not a lot of depth or promise after some of the elite players.


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City of Palms Classic recap 

December, 26, 2013
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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The City of Palms Classic is, in my opinion, the best high school basketball tournament in the country. The field is always strong, the games are generally highly competitive, and the crowd is involved and boisterous. The 41st edition of the tournament was extremely good and full of high-level talent.

Here were some of the best performances from this year's City of Palms.

Best Player
Isaiah Whitehead (Brooklyn, N.Y./Lincoln)
2014, SG/PG, 6-foot-3, 200 pounds
Signed with Seton Hall
Whitehead is much improved and is one of the best guards in the country. He plays like a man among boys, and his ability to make plays for himself and others really sets him apart. He is more than capable of playing point guard at the next level and beyond. He averaged more than 25 points per game at the City of Palms and rarely forced anything while leading Lincoln to a fifth-place finish.


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#AskCoachB: Best potential in 2015

November, 22, 2013
11/22/13
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Want to ask ESPN RecruitingNation national recruiting director Paul Biancardi a question about basketball recruiting? Tweet it to @PaulBiancardi using the hashtag #AskCoachB.



I will give you two names, because to give you just one is too hard and no fun. First, the No. 1 player in the class, Malik Newman. A shooting and scoring guard by nature with a strong body, he has an aggressive, attacking style and the right swagger to get buckets. He shoots it from deep behind the arc and finishes well at the rim because of his college-ready frame. Where he is now and where he will be is far apart, which give him plenty of upside. Potential means nothing unless one maximizes the ability. I believe Newman has plenty of room to grow.

The other prospect is Ben Simmons, who is verbally committed to LSU. The young man from Australia has a rare combination of size, skill and bounce. His greatest skill is his feel for the game and his passing, as he can also score inside the lane or facing up. When Simmons becomes more assertive throughout the game, his high ceiling of talent will be reached.

Weekly Commitment Update

October, 18, 2013
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SEC
LSU
Jalyn Patterson PG Alpharetta, Ga./Montverde Academy
HT: 6-1 WT: 170
Class of 2014
Positional Rank: 40
Stars: 3

Ben Simmons PF Melbourne, Australia/Montverde Academy
HT: 6-9 WT: 230
Class of 2015
Positional Rank: 2
Stars: 5
ESPN 60: 4

Big East
Marquette
Ahmed Hill SG Augusta, Ga./Aquinas
HT: 6-5 WT: 190
Class of 2014
Positional Rank: 12
Stars: 4
ESPN 100: 52

Marial Shayok SF Ottawa, Ontario/Blair Academy
HT: 6-6 WT: 205
Class of 2014
Positional Rank: 27
Stars: 4

Big Ten
Iowa
Dominique Uhl PF Point Pleasant Beach, N.J./Point Pleasant Beach
HT: 6-7 WT: 185
Class of 2014
Positional Rank: NA
Stars: 3

Big 12
Oklahoma State
Mitch Solomon C Bixby, Okla./Bixby
HT: 6-9 WT: 225
Class of 2014
Positional Rank: 20
Stars: 3

Texas Tech
Keenan Evans PG Richardson, Texas/Berkner
HT: 6-3 WT: 170
Class of 2014
Positional Rank: NA
Stars: 2

ACC
Syracuse
Tyler Lydon PF Pine Plains, N.Y./New Hampton
HT: 6-8 WT: 181
Class of 2015
Positional Rank: 14
Stars: 4

Atlantic 10
St. Bonaventure
Iakeem Alston PG Baltimore/Sheridan College (Juco)
HT: 6-0 WT: 165
Class of 2014

George Mason
Trey Porter C Dumfries, Va./Potomac
HT: 6-10 WT: 190
Class of 2014
Positional Rank: NA
Stars: Evaluation Pending

Therence Mayimba SF Hagerstown, Md./St. James School
HT: 6-6 WT: 190
Class of 2014
Positional Rank: 44
Stars: 3

Conference USA
Southern Miss
Javonte Douglas SF Charlotte, N.C./Central Florida C.C. (Juco)
HT: 6-8
Class of 2014

Texas-San Antonio
Austin Karrer SG New Braunfels, Texas/Canyon
HT: 6-3 WT: 175
Class of 2014
Positional Rank: NA
Stars: Evaluatio Pending

MAAC
Quinnipiac
Samuel Dingba PF Salisbury, Conn./Salisbury School
HT: 6-6 WT: 205
Class of 2014
Positional Rank: NA
Stars: 2

Big South
Radford
Cam Jones SG Roanoke, Va./Brunswick Community College (Juco)
HT: 6-4 WT: 180
Class of 2014

Horizon League
Valparaiso
Tevonn Walker PG Montreal. Que./Vanier College
Class of 2014
Positional Rank: NA
Stars: Evaluation Pending

Youngstown State
Ja'Christian Biles SG Oak Park, Mich./Oak Park
HT: 6-3
Class of 2104
Positional Rank: NA
Stars: Evaluation Pending

NEC
Sacred Heart
Vince Fritz SG Overland Park, Kan./Blue Valley Northwest
HT: 6-2 WT: 180
Class of 2014
Positional Rank: NA
Stars: Evaluation Pending

Wagner
Aaren Edmead PG Deer Park, N.Y./Deer Park
HT: 5-10 WT: 160
Class of 2014
Positional Rank: NA
Stars: Evaluation Pending

Summit League
Nebraska-Omaha
Jalen Jones SF Clinton, Iowa/Clinton
HT: 6-5 WT: 180
Class of 2014
Positional Rank: NA
Stars: 2

IUPUI
Cortez Macklin SG Louisville, Ky./Rend Lake C.C. (Juco)
HT: 6-3 WT: 175
Class of 2014

Southern Conference
Tennessee-Chattanooga
Jacolby Mobley PG Scooba, Miss./East Mississippi C.C. (Juco)
HT: 6-0 WT: 155
Class of 2014

Wofford
Derrick Brooks PG Bartow, Fla./Bartow
HT: 6-2 WT: 170
Class of 2014
Positional Rank: NA
Stars: Evaluation Pending

Cameron Jackson PF Winchester, Va./Handley
HT: 6-7
Class of 2014
Positional Rank: NA
Stars: Evaluation Pending

Ohio Valley
Jacksonville State
LaBarrius Hill SF Parrish, Ala./Parrish
HT: 6-7 WT: 215
Class of 2014
Positional Rank: NA
Stars: Evaluation Pending

Sun Belt
Western Kentucky
Justin Johnson PF Hazard, Ky./Perry County Central
HT: 6-7 WT: 235
Class of 2014
Positional Rank: NA
Stars: Evaluation Pending

Troy
Chris Jones PG Memphis, Tenn./Southwest Mississippi C.C. (Juco)
HT: 6-1 WT: 161
Class of 2014

Arkansas State
Adam Ward SF Atascocita, Texas/Lee College (Juco)
HT: 6-5 WT: 200
Class of 2014

MAC
Buffalo
Raheem Johnson PF Romulus, Mich./Barton County C.C. (Juco)
HT: 6-9 WT: 250
Class of 2014

Kent State
Raasean Davis PF Dallas, Ga./Paulding County
HT: 6-7 WT: 220
Class of 2014
Positional Rank: NA
Stars: Evaluation Pending

Missouri Valley
Wichita State
Corey Henderson Jr. SG Dallas/Episcopal
HT: 6-3 WT: 165
Class of 2014
Positional Rank: NA
Stars: Evaluation Pending

Big Sky
North Dakota
Bryce Cashman C Weston, Mo./West Platte
HT: 6-10 WT: 225
Class of 2014
Positional Rank: NA
Stars: Evaluation Pending

Idaho State
Jason McClellan PF Fort Collins, Colo./Eastern Wyoming College (Juco)
HT: 6-9 WT: 240
Class of 2014

Patriot League
Navy
Mo Lewis SF Milton, Ga./Milton
HT: 6-5 WT: 210
Class of 2014
Positional Rank: NA
Stars: 2

CAA
James Madison
Hari Hall
SF Jacksonville, Fla./Ribault

HT: 6-7 WT: 210
Class of 2014
Positional Rank: NA
Stars: Evaluation Pending

Scout's take: Ben Simmons to LSU 

October, 14, 2013
10/14/13
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Ben Simmons, the No. 4 player in the Class of 2015 ESPN 60, decided to give LSU a verbal commitment shortly after his unofficial visit this past weekend. Simmons has tremendous versatility and skill for his size (6-foot-9), with an innate feel for the game at a young age. The Tigers are working their way up to being a contender through the recruiting efforts of coach Johnny Jones and his staff.

[+] EnlargeBen Simmons
Courtesy of Kelly Kline/AdidasAustralia native Ben Simmons is a 6-9 lefty with a wide variety of skills.
Why he committed: Since the moment Simmons, an Australia native, landed in the United States and Montverde Academy in Florida, Jones and assistant coach David Patrick have been on him. All of the major programs offered him or were soon to offer, and he had his choice of colleges. When it comes to recruiting, it's hard to beat long-lasting relationships. In this case, Patrick is Simmons' godfather and played with his dad, Dave, in Australia.


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Breaking down the new 2015 ESPN 60 

September, 25, 2013
9/25/13
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Malik NewmanAP Photo/Charles SmithCallaway, Miss., shooting guard Malik Newman might be No. 1 in the 2015 ESPN 60, but a deep class of big men will challenge him for that spot over the next 18 months.
We’ve processed a full summer worth of action and now our updated ESPN 60 includes the top national prospects in the 2015 recruiting class. Here’s 10 things every college basketball fan should know as this class heads into its junior season:

1. A battle for the top spot

There’s a new No. 1 in town, and while Paul Biancardi breaks down why Malik Newman (Jackson, Miss./Callway) is the new top dog, I’m here to tell you this race is far from over. The previous No. 1 Ivan Rabb (Oakland, Calif./Bishop O’Dowd) is going to want his title back, and no one is making a more aggressive charge to the top of the rankings than Stephen Zimmerman (Las Vegas/Bishop Gorman) who has been coming on strong all spring and summer. Ben Simmons (Melbourne, Australia/Montverde Academy), Diamond Stone (Milwaukee/Dominican), and Elijah Thomas (Lancaster, Texas/Lancaster) are three other guys who will challenge in the coming 18 months as the top spot is still very much up for grabs moving forward in the 2015 class.


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10 storylines to watch in July 

July, 1, 2013
7/01/13
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In college basketball, legacies are made in March and championships are won in April, but the foundations for both are built in July.

July is the most important month of the year in basketball recruiting. Sure, there’s an early signing period in the fall and a late signing period in the spring when pen is put to paper and commitments become official. But the groundwork for most of those signings is laid in July, when a trio of live evaluation periods (July 10-14, July 17-21 and July 24-28 for 2013) and dozens of elite events have prospects and college coaches criss-crossing the country in a crazy month of hoops.

With that in mind, here are the top 10 things you need know this July on the basketball recruiting trail.

1. July is here -- and why you should care

July is a weird month. For those involved in the fraternity that is college basketball recruiting, the players, coaches and media kiss their families goodbye and set forth to all corners of the country to either demonstrate their talents or search for the next wave of college prospects. Think of July like you would the first three days of a golf major. It’s the time when teams and players alike position themselves for a stretch run in the fall that culminates with official visits and official signings.

Simply put, July sets the table for seasons to come in college hoops. Recruiters will lock in on the priority targets for their teams, the players who will become future favorites of their fan bases. In some cases, the head coach will watch every single game of a handful of the most important prospects on his wish list. Simultaneously, those same players will scan the gym, intently looking to see which coaches are watching them. It’s a delicate dance orchestrated with a basketball game in the backdrop.

It sounds fun, but the reality is that the futures of programs and individual players are tied to the rigors of July. Prospects don’t arrive on campuses without hard work by coaching staffs, and coaching staffs don’t get the best players unless they can set their final priorities.

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