After starring in a Philadelphia 76ers win over the New York Knicks, Ben Simmons nonchalantly commented on the Boomers' worst kept secret.
Brett Brown's return as head coach is yet to be officially acknowledged by Basketball Australia as of Thursday, but Simmons was happy to offer his thoughts on the matter. The 6'10 point guard said he was "excited" for the Olympics and described a "great relationship" with his NBA coach. Brown has coached the Sixers since 2013, and recently led the team to back-to-back conference semi-finals.
ESPN insider Adrian Wojnarowski broke the news on Tuesday, with Brett Brown and Basketball Australia both remaining tight-lipped since then. When approached for comment, Brown said "It’s stuff that I prefer not to talk right now about", before adding, "fair question, though".
Brown's links to Simmons and Australia
In the wake of Wojnarowski's bombshell just eight months out from the Tokyo Olympics, all eyes turned to Ben Simmons. The question on everybody's lips: is this hire a ploy to lure Simmons back into the Boomers fold? The answer is probably not, as Brett Brown is an accomplished coach in his own right.
A former student of Naismith Hall of Fame coach Lindsay Gaze, Brown has extensive history in Australia. The American coached Ben Simmons' father, David Simmons, while working as Gaze's assistant at the Melbourne Tigers. He then coached the North Melbourne Giants to an NBL title in 1994, collecting an NBL Coach of the Year award in the process. Brown later moved back to his native America in 2002, spending the next 11 years as an assistant to legendary San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.
While working under Popovich, Brown even coached the Boomers from 2009-2012, leading Australia to the quarter-finals at the London Olympics. Although a coaching change will undoubtedly disrupt continuity in the Boomers system, Brown shouldn't be viewed as an overseas import. He has experience in this role and knows the senior Boomers players, while also having ties to Ben Simmons and Jonah Bolden at club level.
Simmons' complicated Boomers history
Simmons first wore the green and gold in 2012, as a member of the silver medal-winning Australian side at the FIBA Under-17 World Championships. The Melbourne native would make his senior Boomers debut soon after, at the 2013 FIBA Oceania Championships. Six years on, this clip below from 2013 is still the only footage of Simmons in a Boomer uniform.
The 76er debuted under outgoing coach Andrej Lemanis, who would later omit him from the Boomers squad ahead of the 2014 FIBA World Championships. Simmons noted his displeasure in a now-deleted tweet, writing "Really disappointed didn't make the Worlds Team, Good luck to all the guys who did #grindtime".
As reported by Olgun Uluc of FOX Sports Australia, Simmons' omission from the 2014 World Championships squad instigated a strained relationship with Lemanis. This could explain his reluctance to represent Australia ever since, but the Victorian showed enthusiasm ahead of this year's World Cup. In an April tweet, Simmons announced that he would "be a Boomer for the upcoming events" - see below.
Ultimately, the 23 year old was absent from the World Cup and associated exhibition games, citing "professional obligations". Unsurprisingly, his decision drew the ire of Australian basketball fans. The issue goes beyond Simmons merely sitting out however. After all, a long list of NBA stars also passed on the FIBA tournament. His inability to honour a prior commitment was the real disappointment.
Looking towards Tokyo
Would Ben Simmons be willing to play under Lemanis in Tokyo? difficult to say. Brett Brown's appointment does increase his likelihood of playing, but the 76ers coach also knows how to use him best. Having coached Simmons for several years now, he would be well across the point guard's strengths and weaknesses.
FIBA basketball is a different game compared to the NBA, as evidenced by MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo's inability to truly dominate at the 2019 World Cup, and only time will tell whether Brown can bring out the best in Simmons during FIBA play, whne Tokyo comes around.