How close did Larry Brown get to getting Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons to go to SMU?
Well, not close at all, but the former Sixers head coach remembers seeing both All-Stars as high schoolers while he was still coaching the Mustangs.
While he knew both guys were special then, he’s still blown away by how good they have become.
“I used to go down to Montverde to recruit and I saw Ben when he was just a young 15-year-old. I couldn’t believe how good he was,” Brown said as a guest on the Sixers Talk podcast. “And then when I went to recruit Joel, he didn’t even start on his AAU team, which blew me away. And when you see those two guys [now], it’s incredible.”
Brown had no chance at landing Simmons, but Luc Mbah a Moute, who is largely responsible for Embiid taking up basketball in Cameroon, thought that Embiid would be a good fit for the Hall of Fame coach.
Embiid ultimately went to Kansas — “At SMU, you’re not going to beat Kansas,” Brown said. Brown still got to see a lot of Embiid and gather plenty of intel because of his close relationship with head coach Bill Self, who worked under Brown when he was the head man at Kansas. People at Kansas thought Embiid had the potential to be the best player ever at the school, according to Brown.
As Brown watches the All-Star center now, he sees one of the most special players in the league — with the potential to be even more special.
When I see Joel, I don’t think anybody is better than him. He might get mad at me today, but he needs to get on the block, and he needs to block every shot and dominate on the post because he’ll open it up for everybody else. And I don’t think there’s a better big man in the game than him. …
“My hope for him is that he would think about Kobe [Bryant] and Michael [Jordan] and watch ‘The Last Dance’ and realize the gift that he has, and just spend all his time working on that craft because there’s nobody that can be any more dominant than him.
Brown admits that he likes the game of yesteryear better, when players like Shaquille O’Neal and Patrick Ewing were pounding each other in the post. During Brown’s peak as a coach, the three-point shot was something for specialists, not for every player.
For that reason, he has awfully high praise for Simmons and an interesting take on the All-Star point guard’s unwillingness to shoot.
I can’t believe people in Philly are worried about Ben Simmons shooting a three-pointer. That kid is as good as any player in the league. He doesn’t need to shoot a three-pointer. God might punish me for that. … He can guard, he rebounds the ball, he passes the ball as well as anybody. He’s completely unselfish.
While Brown lavished praise upon Embiid and Simmons, he was much more critical about the way the current team is constructed. The Sixers sit at 39-26 and, if the playoffs were to happen in the traditional format, they’d be the East’s sixth seed.
Many have contemplated if Embiid and Simmons fit together and wondered if the duo is viable as a long-term championship contender. Brown believes there’s an issue with fit, but not with Embiid and Simmons.
Here’s my deal — they lost [Jimmy] Butler and JJ [Redick]. You can’t replace those two guys. Again, I hope I’m not having people mad at me. I’m a huge fan of Al Horford, but he’s a center. He has so many great gifts about being a great guy and an unbelievable teammate and a tremendous talent, but now he’s gotta guard four-men and four-men have to guard him, and that’s made it real tough for him. [Tobias] Harris has killed four-men because of his athleticism and ability to put it down on the floor and shoot an outside shot. Now he’s playing three and guarding smaller and quicker guys than him. ...
“People think the game has passed me by — and it probably has — but I believe in defending, rebounding, sharing the ball, the scorers shoot the ball and the other guys do their job to make each other better. I just don’t know if that team fits. They might have the talent, but a lot of times you have talent but it’s a matter of people fitting together.
For more from Brown on Michael Jordan and his time coaching Allen Iverson, check out the latest edition of the Sixers Talk podcast below.
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