Shortly before LSU’s regular season finale at Kentucky, the list of Wooden Award finalists was released without freshman Ben Simmons on the list. According to LSU writer Glenn Guilbeau, Simmons’ omission was a result of the Australian star, likely the No. 1 in pick in next year’s draft, failing to record a 2.0 GPA during his fall semester.
Simmons has been one of the most divisive players in college basketball this season for what he both has and has not done with his limited time in college. He has been fantastic individually and his wild stat lines resulted in averages (19.6 points, 11.9 rebounds, five assists per game) we haven’t seen since the 1994-95 season.
Simmons has not led LSU to the levels of SEC or national contention many expected. LSU has a few good wins (Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Texas A&M), a lot of bad losses on its 18-13 record and may need to win the SEC tournament to make the NCAA Tournament. Simmons also has not, apparently, been a shining star in the world of academia.
“I think it was just little things like missing a couple of classes and things like that,” Simmons said Monday, via USA Today. “And then it gets brought up. If it was somebody else, it may not have been brought up. Now, it’s one of those things that’s everywhere. But I’m not worried about that right now.”
Simmons has been on campus since the summer but told the paper “he had trouble adjusting to college in his first full semester.” The issue of Simmons’ academic performance had an impact on the spring semester as well, as what coach Johnny Jones called “academic stuff” resulted in the star sitting on the bench for the start of LSU’s game against Tennessee on Feb. 20.
“You don’t go to some classes. You miss some classes, and you’re going to get punished,” Simmons said. “That’s how they handle it. I learned from it. I go to class now.”
On a human level, it’s important to remember that Simmons is from another country and has been treated like anything but a normal college student since arriving in Baton Rouge. But his case brings up the never-ending debate on the value of the education provided to these athletes in exchange for their commitment to play high-level, revenue-producing sports for at least one year.
This seems to be another situation to reinforce the idea that a student-athlete is compensated not with an education, but with an opportunity to enroll. The education part depends on what happens after getting on campus.