‘Erase those memories’: Ben Simmons urged not to quit Australian basketball team’s Olympics tilt

Andrew Gaze has recommended Boomers therapy for Ben Simmons as doubts grow over the maligned NBA All-Star’s desire to join the team’s push for a maiden Olympic medal.

Simmons’s run at an NBA title with the top-seeded Philadelphia 76ers came crashing to an inglorious halt in the eastern conference semi-finals.

His reluctance to take open shots and attack the basket, stemming from historically poor free-throw shooting, earned the ire of star teammate Joel Embiid while coach Doc Rivers questioned whether the Sixers could win an NBA title with the Australian at point guard.

If needed, game seven of the NBA Finals series will take place a day before the Olympics opening ceremony on 23 July. That time pressure was expected to be the biggest hurdle in getting Simmons and fellow 76ers and Boomers squad member Matisse Thybulle to Tokyo.

But, one month out, there are no Australians left playing the NBA after Joe Ingles’s top-seeded Utah Jazz fell in the western conference semi-finals.

Instead, the barrier now for Simmons appears to be internal, with ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reporting that the 24-year-old is leaning towards spending the NBA off-season “working on skill development”.

Simmons was a late withdrawal from the Boomers’ 2019 World Cup campaign and has not played for Australia since being overlooked as an emerging 18-year-old for their 2014 World Cup campaign.

Australia’s men finished fourth in Rio and at the World Cup in China, missing medals in equally cruel circumstances that have left core members like Patty Mills determined to make amends in Tokyo.

Coach Brian Goorjian was confident of Simmons’s return to help that quest and it is understood Mills had been in regular contact with Melbourne-born Simmons and Sydney-raised Thybulle to familiarise them with the Boomers’ famed culture.

Simmons’ tame play-offs exit may have crushed that optimism but five-time Olympian Gaze has urged him to consider the upside of a Tokyo campaign.

“We can all speculate and hypothesise, but based on my experiences I would be strongly encouraging him to play,” said Gaze. “You want to erase those memories as quickly as you can, and grow and learn and the Australian team has an unbelievably welcoming and supporting culture and success with individual development.

“It’s a small, small period of time – we’re talking three to four weeks – but it can be very influential. I don’t think any of us would have a full appreciation of the challenges he would face on a variety of fronts.

“But I do have a very good appreciation for how beneficial an Olympics experience can be. It’s a very healthy environment to be involved in; it won’t be the be-all and end-all, but it can be very helpful.”

Even if Simmons’s offensive struggles continued to plague him, his pure playmaking ability and defensive attributes would still enhance a Boomers squad stacked with shooting options.

Fiba’s rule variations from the NBA also mean it is unlikely a ‘hack-a-Ben’ strategy is employed, with intentional fouls on a player deemed unsportsmanlike and awarding possession back to the attacking side once the free-throws are completed.

The 19-man Boomers squad, which features NBA veterans Ingles, Matthew Dellavedova and Aron Baynes, as well as emerging talents Josh Giddey and Josh Green, are trickling into Los Angeles for a camp that begins on 25 June.

A final squad of 12 will then be picked before a pre-Olympic camp in Las Vegas – with games against the United States, Nigeria and Argentina – from July 6-19 before their first pool game in Tokyo against Nigeria on July 25.

Gaze hopes Simmons doesn’t rush to a decision and isn’t forced to before the Las Vegas camp so that the “dust can settle”.

BOOMERS 19-MAN OLYMPIC SQUAD: Aron Baynes, Ryan Broekhoff, Xavier Cooks, Mitchell Creek, Matthew Dellavedova, Dante Exum, Josh Giddey, Chris Goulding, Josh Green, Isaac Humphries, Joe Ingles, Nick Kay, Jock Landale, Patty Mills, Brock Motum, Duop Reath, Ben Simmons, Nathan Sobey, Matisse Thybulle.