The Tokyo Olympics isn’t about having fun for Ben Simmons.
The Tokyo Olympics isn’t about having fun for Ben Simmons.

‘It’s business’: Simmons’ ruthless desire for Olympic gold

BEN Simmons isn't some Olympic history buff who can instantly reel off his take on the Bolt-versus-Phelps GOAT debate.

He isn't up for the kind of eloquent, expansive dissertation on the Olympic ideals that you might find from swimming's Campbell sisters or Sally Pearson.

Australia's richest sportsman won't be padding his Instagram account with Tokyo dining hall selfies with Roger Federer and Simone Biles like so many before him.

What this driven young 23-year-old is all about in his first Olympics next July is taking care of business.

Specifically, winning Australia its first men's basketball medal in Olympic competition.

And not in the shade of bronze.

"Yeah, I don't play for second place, so that is the one thing. I am not coming to the Olympics to have fun and just enjoy the one time," the Philadelphia 76ers star told News Corp in an exclusive interview 12 months out from Tokyo 2020.

"I want to win. It is business for me, I want to win and that's what I want to do as an Australian.

Ben Simmons will miss the World Cup.
Ben Simmons will miss the World Cup.

"I think the time is coming where we have a really good chance at medalling, for gold or silver.

"For me I have always wanted to play at the highest level and take those opportunities to play and better myself. I want to get better as a player but you don't get too many opportunities to represent your country and you don't take it for granted.

"It doesn't come around too often for many people but I have had multiple opportunities to do it. When the timing is right I can't wait to play in the Olympics and represent Australia."

In mid-May Simmons' emerged from the NBA bubble to post a video on Twitter containing those magical words - "I am going to be a Boomer" - and instantly turned men's basketball into one of Tokyo's must-watch events.

The prospect of an Olympic debut for one of the NBA's most talented prospects - fresh from signing a maximum five-year deal worth $242.2 million - was in itself beyond mouth-watering.

Beyond the star factor, it also came at the perfect time for a Boomers team desperate to banish decades of heartbreak.

Many experts believe gold is a reality with Simmons leading the Boomers.
Many experts believe gold is a reality with Simmons leading the Boomers.

For all the magical Boomers moments - taking it up to America in Rio 2016 in a pulsating round-robin game, Shane Heal trash-talking Charles Barkley, Tony Ronaldson's game-winning corner three in the dying seconds of the 1996 quarter-final - it has never been enough.

Four times the men's team have lost a bronze medal playoff, including in Rio where the finest men's team yet assembled endured a pair of refereeing howlers in the dying seconds to lose 89-88 to Spain.

That team beat some of world basketball's greatest sides, led America 54-49 at half-time in their pool game and yet somehow fell short of a medal

The members of that team are not only still intact, they are battle-hardened after four more years of NBA experience.

"I don't play for second place, so that is the one thing. I am not coming to the Olympics to have fun and just enjoy the one time" - Ben Simmons

Joe Ingles (Utah Jazz) has become a legitimate NBA star running his team's offence or leading NBA three-point percentages, Patty Mills had a career-best year for San Antonio this year, and Andrew Bogut mixed NBL MVP status with another stint as Golden State just fell short against Toronto in the NBA finals.

Aron Baynes, Jonah Bolden, Matthew Dellavedova, Thon Maker, Dante Exum, Ryan Broekhoff, Mitch Creek, Deng Adel and Isaac Humphries this past season rounded out the deepest Australian contingent in NBA history.

Joe Ingles is part of the NBA contingent. Picture: Ross D. Franklin
Joe Ingles is part of the NBA contingent. Picture: Ross D. Franklin

How Lemanis coalesces their talents - and filters in the local Boomers hopes - is an open question but Simmons has few doubts he can make a splash.

"Oh definitely, I am more than confident with the team we have. Me being able to train with them and help the team get better, I am really looking forward to that part of it and having a whole bunch of guys - Joe Ingles, Patty Mills, Bogut, Baynsey, Dante, it's going to be impressive and we can really gel.

"That just comes with repetitions. I am a point guard and I know everyone's game because we play in the same league. It's going to be easy for me to gel with those guys and really red them and get a quick read for how they play."

Simmons had earlier this year declared his determination to play for Australia in the upcoming World Cup and four warm-up games against Canada and the USA.

He has since pulled out of the World Cup but will play the warm-up games, adamant he needs to be in America in September to hone his craft for the upcoming NBA season.

Right now he is training from his summer base in Los Angeles, mixing daily court sessions with night weights sessions to hone his chiselled body.

And refining a jump shot that pundits believe is the only impediment to a legacy as one of the game's greats, with teammates in recent weeks reporting he has made significant ground on that front this summer.

"He is only young, so the jump shot can take him to Kobe Bryant, LeBron James level" - Andrew Gaze

Simmons isn't short on ambition after already ticking off Rookie of the Year and All Star honours.

"I just don't like to compete," he says.

"I don't like to be second or third. At the same time I love to learn and I want to get better.

"So even with not being the best player in the world right now, that's where I want to be. It just gives me extra motivation to get there."

Ben Simmons working on his game. Picture: Instagram
Ben Simmons working on his game. Picture: Instagram

Andrew Gaze is one of Australia's great Olympians, a five-time representative second only to Oscar Schmidt in Olympic points.

He is all in on Simmons not only as a transcendent basketball talent but as an on-court facilitator who can turn the Boomers into gold medal aspirants.

Gaze believes 76ers coach Brett Brown - a former Boomers Olympic coach - should encourage Simmons to play in the World Cup to fast-track his basketball education against different styles of defence.

Regardless he believes Simmons is the perfect point guard to run an Australian team stacked with lethal shooters.

"With Simmons in the equation it would be the equivalent of saying years ago what does it mean to the United States to have LeBron James playing?" Gaze says.

"When you have someone with exceptional skills and talents that no one in the world really has, it gives you a huge advantage.

"He has got a lot of developing to do but hopefully he's not one and done here. Hopefully we can say over the next three or four Olympics, provided he has the desire, we have a chance to be considered among the very best in the world.

Ben Simmons in action for the Boomers. Picture: Getty
Ben Simmons in action for the Boomers. Picture: Getty

"He is six foot 10 (208cm), he can get downhill, he can put the ball on the floor, he has very good basketball IQ, he finds people, he is unselfish, he can score at the rim and he can guard through 1 to 5 (any basketball position).

"I think a lot of people have made comment about his jump shot but it doesn't pay credit to the very good things he does. He almost managed a triple double in an entire NBA season. 16, 8 and 8. (16.9 points, 8.8 rebounds, 7.7 assists). He is only young, so the jump shot can take him to Kobe Bryant, LeBron James level."

Father Dave Simmons won a championship with the Melbourne Tigers in 1993 and played 13 years in the NBL in a time where the likes of Gaze and Shane Heal were swapping war stories about their Boomers heroics.

Ben is too young to have absorbed those tales tall and true, but like so many kids growing up in Australia retains the memory of an indigenous Australian flashing down the front straight in a body suit.

"A few things stand out. It would definitely be Cathy Freeman and what she's done for Australia. What she has represented as an indigenous person really stuck out for me. She has paved the way for so many others which is huge for Australia. I have got a lot of respect for her," Simmons says.

"I am not a person who follows one person or one team, I am the type of person who enjoys competition.

Ben Simmons dunks against NZ in 2013. Picture: Getty
Ben Simmons dunks against NZ in 2013. Picture: Getty

"So if I turn on (the Olympics) and they are shooting discs out of the sky or diving or whatever, I just like to watch athletes at their best and watch them competing for something much bigger than themselves."

A generation on Ash Barty and Mills are representing their culture and nation on the world stage as role models mixing grace and excellence.

Simmons believes he can be that kind of figure for Australian kids too, hopeful he can inspire the next generation through his deeds and yearly training camps in Melbourne and Sydney.

"Growing up I didn't really have anyone like that, who played NBA from Australia and was running camps for me. And it's not because the guys weren't there, it's just because things were different and times are changing.

"I want to be able to do that for kids in Australia and be a role model for kids back home.

"So for guys like Patty and Bogut and Joe Ingles, going back home and representing the country and doing things for Basketball Australia is huge for the game."

As a former No.1 NBA draft pick with a decade ahead of him in the sport's premier league his legacy is likely secure anyway.

Win a medal in a Tokyo Olympics team crying out for heroes and Simmons might just be elevated to legend status.