Australian Ben Simmons tipped for the top as he confirms availability for draft

Jay Asser 09:26 23/03/2016
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Work in progress: Simmons has spent just one season with LSU.

The Ben Simmons era will officially begin in October with the Australian phenom announcing his decision to declare for this June’s draft.

After playing a lone freshman year at Louisiana State University, the 19-year-old will make the jump to the next level, telling ESPN: “I’m making it official.”

Blending 6-foot-10 height with a range of skill, the much-hyped Simmons is expected to be selected with the top overall pick.

LSU coach Johnny Jones said: “We knew that there was a great possibility that Ben would only be at LSU for one season. And if you are going to have a guy to do that, Ben was the perfect one because of how much of a team player he is.

“We are happy about the development that transpired during his time here and think he will continue to make great strides as he transitions into the NBA.”

Despite his talent, Simmons wasn’t able to lead LSU to the NCAA Tournament as the school finished 19-14 overall and 11-7 in the Southeastern Conference this season. It was the first time in three years that LSU failed to reach 20 wins as they declined to play in the National Invitational Tournament.

If Simmons is taken first overall in the draft, it will be a rare occurrence as the last No1 pick to not reach the NCAA Tournament in his draft year was Michael Olowokandi from Pacific in 1998. Olowokandi was drafted by the Clippers and after a bright start to his career was traded to Minnesota and then Boston amid a series of injury problems culminating in his retirement in 2007.

Simmons’ statistics were off the chart as he averaged a double-double and filled that box score on a nightly basis, but he’s ineligible for the prestigious Wooden Award, given to the best college player in the nation due to academic reasons, according to ESPN.

He also drew criticism towards the end of the season for his body language and effort, potentially opening the door for fellow freshman Brandon Ingram of Duke to surpass him on draft night.

A photo posted by Ben Simmons (@bensimmons25) on

Ingram is still playing in the NCAA Tournament with Duke advancing to the Sweet Sixteen and his length (6-foot-9), tools and shooting ability will be a major draw for NBA general managers.

Jones, however, believes Simmons is just scratching the surface, adding: “Ben was a tremendous team-mate and a great competitor. He brought a great deal of excitement and enthusiasm to our team and did an outstanding job of making those around him better.

“We certainly feel as if he’s going to have a bright future as he continues to work hard to achieve his goal of playing at the highest level.”

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#360USA: Adam LaRoche walks out on Chicago White Sox over bizarre saga involving son

Steve Brenner 07:00 22/03/2016
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Strong father figure: Adam LaRoche.

Drake LaRoche isn’t your ordinary 14-year-old.

Instead of going to school, he would live the life of every schoolboy’s dream. Day-in, day-out, Drake would follow the coat-tails of father Adam, who just happened to be a designated hitter for the Chicago White Sox.

He would mix with the squad and soak in practice. There was a locker with his name on it. A shirt too. Studying was reserved for dates with a private tutor and school in the off-season.

Now, though, that idyllic lifestyle is no more and it has set in motion a turn of events which has seen a shock retirement, a $13 million contract ripped up, arguments raging in the clubhouse and a national debate sparked about parenting and the need for sportsmen to devote more time to their families.

LaRoche Snr, who signed in Chicago on the proviso his son would be allowed to accompany him here, there and everywhere, was told in no uncertain terms this week to “dial back” the time his beloved spent with the team.

While most were happy to have Drake around, it’s believed some coaches and players felt uncomfortable – and who could blame them?

So it was left to White Sox executive vice president Ken Williams to deliver the news.

Needless to say, it went down like the proverbial lead balloon. Team-mates even threatened to strike in protest.

In the blink of an eye, LaRoche had retired, so angry was he about Williams’ demands.

Before signing a new deal last year he said: “My first question to the club concerned my son’s ability to be a part of the team. After some due diligence on the club’s part, we reached an agreement. The 2015 season presented no problems as far as Drake was concerned.”

On Friday, however, the 36-year-old, who hit a paltry 12 homers last season, laid everything bare.

“The White Sox organisation is full of people with strong values and solid character,”  he wrote in a statement. “My decision to walk away was simply the result of a fundamental disagreement between myself and Ken Williams.

“Obviously, I expressed my displeasure toward this decision to alter the agreement we had reached before I signed with the White Sox.

“Upon doing so, I had to make a decision. Do I choose my teammates and my career? Or do I choose my family? The decision was easy, but in no way was it a reflection of how I feel about my team-mates, manager, general manager or the club’s owner Jerry Reinsdorf.”

Note there was no mention of Williams. The beef is there for all to see yet the wider picture has raised questions about parenting and the suitability of having a teenage child hanging around a professional sporting environment 24/7.

The grind of the baseball season is relentless, arguably the toughest, most arduous campaign on earth. Players have moaned for years about the game robbing them of time with their nearest and dearest.

Yet when one player makes a stand – albeit controversial considering Drake’s lack of proper schooling  – it’s eventually decreed as a bad call.

Yes, LaRoche has every right to feel aggrieved. It was, after all, supposed to be part of the deal.

But perhaps the God-fearing star will stand back in the cold light of day and realise maybe, just maybe, he took it a little too far.

Take your son to games and let him hang out in the clubhouse? Fine.

Have him take part in drills and become effectively known as the White Sox’s 26th man?

Come on.

This is professional sport and a multi-million dollar franchise which also happens to be a business. People’s livelihoods rest on what happens on the field.

Other members of the squad are trying to get on with their jobs. Some may be hanging on to their careers by their fingertips.

Ultimate focus is needed – something which could be hampered with a 14–year-old present at an astonishing 120 games out of 162 in 2015.

Maybe the White Sox, in agreeing initially to LaRoche’s demands were left stunned at the amount of time Drake actually spent with the team. No father should ever be told how much time to spend with his son.

Yet LaRoche, fantastic parent that he believes he is, is also a very highly-paid sportsman who owes the club his total and utter dedication.

Somewhere along the line, he totally lost sight of that.

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HIGHLIGHTS: San Antonio smother Golden State in shock NBA win

Sport360 staff 23:02 20/03/2016
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The San Antonio Spurs remain unbeaten at home this season.

The Golden State Warriors were dealt a harsh reality check on Sunday, going down 87-79 to an irrepressive San Antonio Spurs.

LaMarcus Aldridge led the charge for the Spurs with 26 points and 13 rebounds to help the home side maintain their 100% record at the AT&T Center this season.

The Texas-based side held the NBA-leading Warriors to their lowest score of the season. This was largely achieved through slowing star player Stephen Curry down with resolute defensive patterns.

San Antonio are now within three games of Golden State for the league’s top seed with two meetings remaining in April.

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