Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
In the film, Simmons tells reporters who asked him why he stopped attending class after the first semester, “Well, I can’t get a degree in two semesters, so what’s the point?”
There has been — and promises to be more — hand-wringing over this amid criticism of the NCAA, but does it even matter?
Here are a few thoughts on the matter.
First, the 6-foot-10 Simmons was destined to be the No. 1 or 2 pick in the NBA Draft last season — he ended up going No. 1 to the Philadelphia 76ers — and can always go back to school later in life to get his degree if he so chooses.
Remember when another famous LSU big man, Shaquille O’Neal, famously played hooky from a Lakers game to receive his college degree from LSU after he had departed campus following his junior year?
“I promised my parents I’d do it, I promised myself I’d do it,” O’Neal said of earning his degree. “It took eight years, it should have taken six or seven. I had some other engagements.”
By the way, how about the fact that Shaq spent three years on a college campus before coming out in as the No. 1 pick in 1992 while Simmons spent just one?
If Shaq were in college in today’s era, he would’ve been one-and-done, too. And probably wouldn’t have gone to many classes.
Second, as ESPN’s Jay Bilas told me, it was more LSU’s responsibility that Simmons didn’t go to class than the player himself.
“That’s an LSU decision,” Bilas said. “Any school that requires attendance or performance can enforce it. LSU chose not to. This isn’t about Simmons or freshmen. ANY player can choose to skip school second semester, freshman to senior. Each school has to have and enforce its own standards.
“LSU put up No. 25 ‘He’s Coming’ billboards before the season to sell tickets. They are not alone in doing so. Yet, the NCAA says they’re students first, and students that just happen to be athletes. It’s not true, and never has been true. They are recruited as athletes first and NCAA rules (APR, etc.) virtually guarantee they will be treated as such. Then, the Knight Commission has [Shane] Battier and [David] Robinson, as if they’re representative of the college athlete.”
Finally, maybe Simmons should’ve just been allowed to go straight to the NBA from high school at Montverde Academy, or maybe he should’ve done a post-grad year in high school a la Thon Maker, who ended up being the No. 10 pick out of Orangeville Prep in Canada?
Of course, with the one-and-done rule in effect, Simmons chose to spend one year on campus, and he chose to attend LSU because his Godfather, David Patrick, was an LSU assistant, as opposed to attending a Kentucky or a Duke.
But Montverde coach Kevin Boyle believes Simmons could’ve played in the NBA last season — straight out of high school.
“Yes, definitely,” Boyle told me Monday by phone. “If you look at the guys who went directly from high school to the NBA, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Al Harrington, LeBron [James], if you took at the top 15 guys that went out, almost every one of them has had a very successful career. And I would say they had a higher success than players who were picked in the Top 10 overall including the college guys. Almost every one of those guys ended up having a really good career. There was Korleone Young who was the one who didn’t make it Al Harrington’s year. But there haven’t been too many guys who just had no business coming out [from high school].”
Boyle, who also coached lottery picks Kyrie Irving, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and D’Angelo Russell, further says Simmons will have a long and successful career despite a broken foot that has him out for approximately eight weeks.
“In my opinion, I think he should have a terrific NBA career,” Boyle said. “After he gets over the injury, does he become an elite player? Only time will tell that. You can keep improving various areas of your game, and I’d be very surprised if he doesn’t have a terrific NBA career.”
So who really cares if he didn’t go to class for one semester at LSU?
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Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.