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Philadelphia 76ers

Back to School: Ben Simmons' journey from Melbourne to the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft

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Ben Simmons [Getty Images]

As the new school year approaches, we're rewinding things with Back to School Week! This week, we'll take a look back at the amateur years of some of the biggest stars in the NBA.

It's hard to believe that Ben Simmons wasn't always destined to be an NBA star - there was a different popular Australian sport that shared his passion for basketball.

Born in Melbourne, Australia while his father, Dave, was playing for the NBL's Melbourne Tigers, Simmons was exposed to both basketball and Australian rules football at a young age. Ben competed for the Beverly Hills Junior Football Club while living in Melbourne and, as you could imagine, he was a star. He won a number of awards and as a teenager faced a decision that forced him to pick between his two loves - footy and basketball.

As we know now, basketball was the correct decision - sorry, Aussie rules fans.

At 15-years-old, Simmons was already competing for his country at the U-17 FIBA World Championships.

When it came time to take his game to the next level, going to the United States was the best option for the basketball star-to-be. Simmons took his talents to Montverde, Florida to play at Montverde Academy - a prep school known for producing NBA talent.

Simmons was a force at the high school level, averaging 18.5 points, 9.8 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game while leading Montverde to a perfect 28-0 record and a National Championship.

As the No. 1 high school prospect in the country, Simmons committed to Louisiana State University in his senior year.

He went on to earn the highest honours high school basketball has to offer that season - McDonald's All-American, Naismith Prep Player of the Year and Gatorade Player of the Year. Simmons posted a ridiculous 28.0 points, 11.9 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 2.6 steals per game with 24 double-doubles in 29 games.

The awards and honours continued to pile up before Simmons even stepped on the floor at LSU. The top prospect was named Southeast Conference Preseason Player of the Year, joining New York Knicks and Kentucky forward Julius Randle as the only two freshmen to ever receive that nod. Simmons also became the fourth-ever freshman to earn a spot on the Associated Press Preseason All-American Team.

Simmons' stats at LSU backed up his preseason hype, but his team's record did not.

LSU went 18-13 on the season and 11-7 in SEC play, missing the NCAA Tournament.

Simmons averaged 19.2 points, 11.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 2.0 steals per game while leading his team in every major statistical category aside from 3-point and free throw percentage. The phenom point forward even matched Shaquille O'Neal's LSU school record of 43 points in a game - a contest where Simmons also added 14 rebounds, seven assists, five steals and three blocks to the box score to snap his team's three-game losing streak.

The Aussie's stand-out season earned him First Team All-SEC and SEC Freshman of the Year. With no intentions of sticking around, Simmons bowed out of school immediately after the basketball season to begin preparing for the next step in his life - the NBA.

Simmons was selected by the Philadelphia 76ers as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. He was forced to miss his entire first season in the league with a foot injury but bounced back, earning Rookie of the Year in 2018.

Just this summer, Simmons inked a five-year, $170 million max extension to stay with the Sixers.

Again, it's safe to say Simmons' decision to pursue basketball over footy has worked out well for the 23-year-old's present and future.

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