NEW YORK, NY — JANUARY 31: Ben Simmons #25 of the Philadelphia 76ers looks down the court in the third quarter against the Brooklyn Nets during their game at Barclays Center on January 31, 2018 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty
NEW YORK, NY — JANUARY 31: Ben Simmons #25 of the Philadelphia 76ers looks down the court in the third quarter against the Brooklyn Nets during their game at Barclays Center on January 31, 2018 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty

Back off Melbourne — Simmons belongs to Newcastle

THE Johns brothers, Silverchair, a good wave at Merewether ... and Ben Simmons.

Yep, the Philadelphia 76ers NBA rookie sensation is Newcastle to the core, despite the best efforts of Melburnians to claim him as their own.

Simmons spent the majority of his childhood in the Steel City before moving to the US to pursue his NBA dream.

Simmons was born in Melbourne and returned there for high school, but he spent two more months in the Hunter region than Bleak City.

The man himself says no matter where he travels in the world, there is one part of Australia he'll always miss.

"Going to Nobbys Beach in Newcastle," Simmons said.

"That's where I used to go all the time as a young kid fishing. I loved it."

This loyalty from Simmons is music to the ears of his former junior rugby league coach Marc Glanville.

Ben Simmons (with ball) playing rugby league for South Newcastle under-9s in 2005
Ben Simmons (with ball) playing rugby league for South Newcastle under-9s in 2005

The ex-Knights prop coached Simmons at Souths Newcastle for three seasons and couldn't be prouder of his rise in the NBA.

Glanville now watches all Simmons' Sixers games and he has no doubts the former Hunters star is on the path to hoops greatness.

He also believes the 21-year-old has benefited from playing junior rugby league during his time in Newcastle.

The AFL has credited Simmons' sublime skills to his time in Australia's game, but Glanville says league has also significantly helped the Sixers star.

"Ben was a very good league player, so we'll definitely claim him as a Novocastrian," Glanville said.

"I've been monitoring his progress in the NBA and it's great to see him performing the way he is.

"Plus, the fact he is an Aussie who grew up in Newcastle makes it even better.

"I know a couple of people at the Newcastle Basketball Association that are so proud that he has come through the system there.

"Ben has definitely inspired a lot of kids in the region to be as successful as he is."

Long before Simmons was dominating the NBA, he was playing junior league in Newcastle with Souths and Western Suburbs, while his father Dave was starring for the Newcastle Falcons in the NBL.

Glanville has fond memories of Ben causing nightmares for opposition defences in the under 8s, 9s and 10s ranks.

"Ben's size at that age gave him an advantage in league," he said.

"He was also quite quick and they weren't too many kids wanting to tackle him because he was so tall as well.

Simmons is considered a frontrunner for NBA rookie of the year.
Simmons is considered a frontrunner for NBA rookie of the year.

"He was obviously an athlete from a young age, regardless what sport he was playing.

"Ben just knew what to do and how to be successful and he was also a terrific kid.

"He was really quiet, but when spoken and polite. Obviously his folks have raised him to be that sort of kid."

Glanville jokes Simmons could have been a Newcastle Knight in another life, but he is happy he is excelling in the NBA.

The 21-year-old has been a standout in his rookie season with the Sixers, averaging a double-double every time he takes the court and going closer to earning selection to the All Star game.

"It would have been handy if Ben ended up playing for the Knights, but basketball is definitely his sport," he said.

"I dare say he will be earning a bit more than what he could have through rugby league, even though the league guys are on decent coin now.

"It is amazing to see how well Ben is going.

"He went okay at rugby league, but to see where he has got to in basketball is incredible.

"By the sounds of it, he'll eventually be one of the best basketball players ever."

Simmons played his first basketball in Newcastle.
Simmons played his first basketball in Newcastle.

For all his success, Simmons refuses to let the bright lights of professional basketball result in a bighead.

Surrounded by family and friends in America, he insists he is "a country kid" from Australia playing in the world's premier league.

Luckily for Simmons he has found a parallel home to Newcastle in Philadelphia.

'Philly' has felt the force of economic challenges over the years, resulting in

the loss of numerous manufacturing companies, while the city approached bankruptcy in the late 1980s.

 

Similarly, Newcastle has also experienced its fair share of tough times.

From the BHP Steel closures to the 1989 earthquake, Novocastrians have always found a way to rally through setbacks.

Both Philadelphia and Newcastle are built on the back of people who thrive through adversity - which is why 'Philly' is the perfect place for Simmons to launch his professional career according to 76ers coach Brett Brown.

"We have a fantastic city in Philadelphia," Brown says.

"It's extremely sports minded and it's very, very blue collar and tough.

"It's Rocky, it's the Eagles, it's the Flyers - it's Philadelphia and it's an unforgiving sporting town.

"They have been extremely forgiving, tolerant of the process that we've undertaken over the past three years to grow our program at the 76ers.

"It's going to be a challenge for Ben, but I think physically and mentally he will be ready for that with the fan's support."



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