Looking back: How AU basketball fared against the No. 1 NBA draft pick

The Eagle talks to staff writer and basketball analyst Austin Sternlicht for some insight on Ben Simmons, AU Hoops and the NBA Draft

Looking back: How AU basketball fared against the No. 1 NBA draft pick
Dec 22, 2015; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; LSU Tigers forward Ben Simmons (25) slam dunks during the game against the American University Eagles at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

On Thursday, June 23, the Philadelphia 76ers selected former LSU player Ben Simmons as the No.1 overall NBA draft pick, and The Eagle reflects on how AU fared against the superstar on December 22, 2015.

The box score says it all.

On December 22, 2015, the Eagles took on the Tigers of Louisiana State University, falling 79-51 as LSU freshman phenom Ben Simmons notched 23 points, six assists and five rebounds to lead his team to victory. AU’s then-senior Jesse Reed led the Eagles with 12 points while then-freshman James Washington hit 11, but even their combined efforts failed to stop Simmons.

In the post-game press recap, AU head coach Mike Brennan told AUEagles.com that LSU was a talented team that executed well against the Eagles but that his young team could learn from the experience of playing against such a strong opponent.

“It's good to sort of go against a team like that and hang in there for about a half, so they're a few positives you can take away,” Brennan said. “For the most part, we were just overmatched everywhere.”

The Eagle’s basketball analyst Austin Sternlicht said the game against LSU reinforced the notion that “hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard,” as even though AU suffered a loss, the team fought hard against the Tigers. The Eagles trailed just five points at halftime, only to be overmatched by Simmons height and his ability to find the hoop.

“The score may not show it, but AU played relatively well against LSU, especially in the first half. But LSU just had too much raw talent,” Sternlicht said in an email. “From AU's perspective there is nothing you can do about that. Brennan and the Eagles just have to understand they have to work as hard as possible and not let external factors impact their attitude and effort.”

The loss to LSU in December was the fourth consecutive loss for the Eagles in what would be a ten-game losing streak in December and January.

Sternlicht noted in his game preview for the LSU matchup that Simmons entered the year as the No.1 prospect in his college recruiting class, and he lived up to the hype. In his first year with the Tigers, Simmons scored 632 points, averaging 19.8 per game, and earning the Freshman Player of the Year award from the U.S. Basketball Writers Association.

He finished the year ranked first in the NCAA in rebounds (388), free throw attempts (297) and two-point field goals (215), and he also earned distinction as a First Team All-American. However, he failed to make the NCAA tournament, and despite being the presumed No.1 NBA draft pick, Sternlicht noted that Simmons inability to reach the national tournament could have been detriment had he not shown so much raw talent.

“Simmons has basically been the consensus number one pick since the start of the college season,” Sternlicht said. “There was a thought that maybe [Brandon] Ingram [from Duke] could pass him if he had a strong NCAA tournament compared to Simmons who couldn't even get LSU to the big dance, but Simmons ceiling was too much to pass up on.”

Sternlicht noted in his LSU game preview that AU has a history of playing against some of college basketball’s finest, including three NBA athletes from neighboring Georgetown University and a pro player from Patriot League foe Bucknell University. While the schedule for the 2016-2017 season has yet to be released, fans can only hope that another future NBA recruit will make an appearance in the lineup of one of AU’s next opposing teams.

“If I could have AU play any non-conference team, I would want them to play a team where they would actually be able to learn a thing or too,” Sternlicht said in an email. “Basically, if they went up against a team like Duke or Kentucky, they would just be overmatched with talent and athleticism, and that's not the best way to teach a young team to win. I'd particularly be interested in a rematch against Wisconsin.”


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