The worst nightmares of Australian basketball fans may be about to come true with speculation star point guard Ben Simmons won’t play at the Olympics.
- Basketball Australia say there has been no confirmation of Simmons withdrawing from the Olympics
- Speculation comes after Simmons said he needs to “clear [his] mind” and “get [his] mental right”
- The 211-centimetre point guard scored a total of just 19 points in the 76ers’ final three NBA playoff games against Atlanta
Simmons’s Philadelphia 76ers were knocked out of the NBA finals in game seven of their series against the Atlanta Hawks yesterday, with the Australian down on confidence and struggling to have his usual impact.
Despite the optimism in recent months of Boomers coach Brian Goorjian, ESPN reported Simmons was doubtful to play in Tokyo.
Simmons said after game seven that his immediate focus was on rebuilding confidence.
Basketball Australia said there was no confirmation Simmons was withdrawing.
“He hasn’t pulled out, it’s pure conjecture at this stage. If he does, we will advise,” a spokesperson told the ABC.
76ers coach Doc Rivers said there were plans to address Simmons’s shooting woes during the NBA off-season.
“I still believe in him but we have work to do. We’re going to have to get in the gym, put a lot of work in, and go forward,” he said.
“I believe, without going into detail with what we’re doing, I believe we know what the right work is, and the right type of work, and the right way to do it.
“You can do the work all the time. But if it’s not done in the right way and the right type of work, you may not improve.
Simmons is in the middle of a five-year contract reportedly worth $US168 million ($223 million), making him Australia’s highest-paid athlete.
But the 211-centimetre point guard scored a total of just 19 points in the 76ers’ final three games, and by game seven had reached the point where he almost refused to shoot, taking only four shots and passing up a wide-open dunk.
His recent free throw shooting, at 34 per cent, was also the worst in postseason NBA history for anyone with a minimum of 70 attempts.
‘Ben would have it on his bucket list’
Former Boomers great and four-time Olympian Shane Heal said Australia’s medal hopes rested largely on whether Simmons decided to play.
“A lot is going to depend on what Ben Simmons ends up doing. Everyone is always optimistic that he is going to play but that’s yet to be seen,” Heal told the ABC last week.
Australia is yet to win a medal in men’s basketball at the Olympics despite reaching the bronze medal match on four occasions.
“I feel like Ben would have it on his bucket list that he wants to play at the Olympics at some stage, the thing is when is that stage and when does it suit him to be able to play,” Heal said.
Australia also finished fourth at the most recent World Cup in 2019, after beating the powerhouse USA team in a lead-up match and other contenders such as France and Lithuania during the tournament.
Former Opal Michele Timms said last week she was hopeful Simmons would commit to Tokyo.
“I really hope he does (play) because there is such a good crop around him right now,” she told the ABC.
Last month, coach Goorjian said he was confident Simmons would play.
“I’m organising things and putting things together in the mindset that he will be with us,” Goorjian said.
“It’s a big addition because of who he is basketball-wise and player-wise, but also long-term culture-wise. I definitely feel good about it. The response from him has been very, very good.”
The Boomers squad has been cut back to 19 players and will begin a camp in Los Angeles later this month before playing some warm-up matches in Las Vegas.
Basketball Australia said Simmons had the option to join the team in either city.
“Simmons can train with the squad in LA or head straight to Vegas on July 5. Not all players will be in LA,” a spokesperson said.