It was the moment Sixers fans had been awaiting for 20 years.
On Thursday night, the Sixers made the first overall pick in the 2016 NBA draft and selected forward Ben Simmons from LSU.
"It's surreal right now. A lot has been going on, but it's finally here," Simmons told CSN's John Clark. "Philly's a great spot for me."
Simmons averaged 19.2 points, 11.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game for LSU last season as a freshman. Simmons can not only score but also play point forward. He instantly gives the Sixers, who finished 10-72 last season, a new face of the franchise as they enter a new phase of the organization.
But Simmons also realizes he's a result of the previous phase, having put "trust the process" on an Instagram post.
"I'm a part of the family now, so you've got to trust it," Simmons said at post-pick press conference.
Simmons had been the projected top pick at the start of this past college season, but he ran into academic issues at LSU, and the Tigers failed to make the NCAA Tournament. Duke forward Brandon Ingram, only 18, entered the mix for the No. 1 spot with a smooth shot and intriguing potential. The Sixers held a private workout for both. In the end, Simmons separated himself with his well-rounded skill set and strong NBA physique.
“He’s all of 6-10 and 242 pounds,” president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo said following Simmons’ workout on Tuesday. “You’re talking about a substantial young man that is going to have an impact physically at this level almost immediately. He’s got an NBA body and he’s got some skills that are NBA skills, definable NBA skills. When you put that size and skill together, it’s generally a pretty good package.”
Head coach Brett Brown has been tied to Simmons before the 19-year-old was even born. He coached his father for five years in Australia and his brother later on. Brown also knew Simmons’ mother from her days as a cheerleader. Brown understands the Australian culture and the mindset of the athletes there.
“You just can’t make this type of stuff up,” Brown said of their connections on Wednesday. “To speak to him from my perspective is very, very comfortable. It’s very comfortable. He knows that should we draft him, he will have people that will help him navigate all this apart from to help him grow his game. The landscape of the NBA is difficult, and he will have mentors and people that care for a lot of things way more than just basketball around him should we draft him.”
Now it's a matter of what they'll do with him. Simmons has his preference.
"I think I'll be a point forward," Simmons said. "Anywhere where I'm grabbing the ball, setting up plays or pushing the ball on the break. ... At a young age my dad put the ball in my hands and told me to dribble, so at a young age I had that mentality of being a point guard while I was bigger than most kids."
Following the No. 1 pick, the Sixers wanted to get into the top eight and were linked in trade talks leading up to draft night. Bigs Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor were most mentioned in the buzz but a deal never happened (see story).
The Sixers used both their late first-rounders, taking Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot at No. 24 and Furkan Korkmaz at No. 26 (see story).