Eastbay and Nike teamed up to provide an all-access look into basketball’s brightest young athletes. These athletes are tomorrow’s biggest superstars, and we wanted to get an inside peek at some of the hungriest players in the game. Scoop Jackson conducted the interviews. He writes for espn.com and ESPN The Magazine, and he also appears on ESPN Radio and TV shows. He worked as a copywriter and author for Nike from 2001-2005 and has previously contributed to XXL Magazine, Slam Magazine, and other publications.
Jackson sat down with Ben Simmons, who starred at LSU before being taken with the first pick in the draft by Philadelphia. Simmons is widely regarded as one of the biggest prospects in recent history. His professional debut has been delayed due to injury, but the pressure to perform continues to build.
Check out the highlights of the Q&A between the two, where they discuss Simmons’ upbringing, motivation, and how he deals with pressure and adversity.
On his first memories of basketball:
Newcastle Hunter. That’s the first memories I had of playing the game at a young age. I was very young. Very young. Just playing, going around and shooting on every goal.
On going back to those courts recently:
I went back about a year ago now and saw where I used to play. It was special. Definitely wanted to go back and be one of the role models there. It’s strange. It’s strange to be 20 and see kids looking up to me and see where I used to play when I was their age. It’s special. I think that was the real moment where I was just happy to be there. I think that will stick with me forever.
On the difference between American basketball and international basketball:
I think the biggest difference is back in Australia, we play a more team-oriented game. You share the ball, you don’t worry about stats. Once you come into the states, it’s more one-on-one play. I think that’s what helped me develop my game.
On his dribbling skills and how those developed:
My dad always told me to keep dribbling at a young age, because I was one of the bigger kids. I stuck with that and got better. Obviously at 6’10” now, I can dribble. I think that’s what really paid off. Now, before a game I usually pick up two balls and start dribbling them side to side, back and forth, and I think that’s what really gets me ready for game situations.
On being called overrated by some of his critics:
I never worried about what people were saying about me, because I had my own goals and I wanted to complete those.
On his unique passing abilities:
I think the way I pass the ball, people can see it’s not normal. Every time I throw a pass I try and make it on point. Add a bit of flair to it. If [the defender] is not looking, obviously I can just lob it up. If they’re looking, I might hit them with a no-look bounce pass. The ball moves quicker than the player, so I always use that to my advantage.
On his expectations to live up to players he is compared to:
It’s great to be compared to other players, but at the same time, they got where they are by making their own name, so I want to do the same thing. I have my own expectations, so if I don’t do what I want to do, then I fail myself. People are always going to have expectations of different players and try to compare them. I feel like I’m my own player. My expectations are higher than what people put out there.
I don’t believe anybody can really stop me. If my teammate scores, I’m scoring. That’s how I look at it. I think if everyone’s on the same page and everyone is playing the same style, I think you can go a long way with that.
On developing as a player and learning from mistakes:
Every time I step on the court, I learn new things. I might not see it, but I’ll be put in a situation where I could make a mistake and then learn from it.
On advice to younger players:
You can have guys you look up to but at the same time you’ve got to put in the work, because everyone’s going to be their own player. Once you get to a certain age, you find out who you are. You can always model your game after people but at the end of the day, it’s going to be your game.