Despite playing every game this season for LSU, Ben Simmons has been snubbed by the Wooden Award allegedly due to academic reasons.
"From what I was told, he didn't meet all of the requirements," Tigers coach Johnny Jones told ESPN.
"He wasn't certified by the school to be on the ballot."
Long-time LSU spokesman Kent Lowe also confirmed to ESPN that Simmons did not have the necessary criteria to be eligible. While the Wooden award does have selection criteria linked to academic performance, it is a puzzling scenario that has one of the best few players in college basketball this season not eligible for an award despite being allowed to play every game this season. The snub calls in question the integrity of an award that claims to acknowledge the Most Outstanding Collegiate Basketball Player of the Year, a view shared by many analysts including ESPN's Andy Katz.
To be eligible for the Wooden Award, the criteria as taken directly from the award website is as follows:
Candidates must be full-time students in an accredited NCAA college or university.
Consideration should be given to scholastic achievement and aspirations. All candidates must have a cumulative 2.00 grade point average since enrolling in their current university.
Candidates must exhibit strength of character, both on and off the court.
Candidates should be those who contribute to team effort.
Candidates must excel in both offense and defense.
Candidates should be considered on their performance over the course of the entire season (pre-conference, conference and tournament play).
It is widely suspected that Simmons' GPA has slipped below the required 2.0, however as a 'one and done' college player, there is little incentive for a player in his position to worry too much about academics. There is no doubt that Simmons will be an NBA player next season, and with the latest controversy surrounding the 6'10 Australian forward, the commotion is unlikely to negatively impact his draft stock as supported by CBS sports writer Sam Vecenie.
LSU assistant coach and Simmons' godfather David Patrick, also explained to ESPN that Simmons reacted to his omission with a clear focus, "All I care about is winning."
Simmons, who was in the top 25 shortlist for the award in January, and again featured in the top 20 in February, has been left out of the top 15 set to be formally announced this weekend. His omission from the top 15 follows Jones' decision to start Simmons from the bench in the Tigers' loss to Tennessee on 20 February, again, allegedly linked to his academic performance. That decision was essentially a slap in the face, as Simmons still logged his season average of 36 minutes per game that night.
With averages of 19.7 points, 11.9 rebounds and 5.1 assists, Simmons has been one of the standout players in college basketball this season. Across all major conferences, he is the leading player with 22 double-doubles, his latest a 17 point, 11 rebound, 4 assist and 7 steal effort in a loss to Kentucky, while he also ranked highly across most statistical categories.
In all likelihood Simmons was not actually going to win the Wooden Award, with Buddy Hield widely favoured to win it. However if Simmons is eligible to play college basketball, as he has all season to date, it is puzzling as to why he should not be in contention to win this award.