BEFORE BEN COULD JUMP
HE’S arguably the hottest young sporting talent on the planet, but basketballer Ben Simmons could have been an AFL star.
The 208cm 21-year-old, who is a point forward for the Philadelphia 76ers, played for the Beverley Hills Junior Football Club in Melbourne’s east.
His coach in those 20082009 years, Joe Mezgec, has no doubt Simmons was headed to the AFL with a bullet.
“I coached him for two years at Beverley Hills in the U13 and U14s,” said Mezgec, who is now junior development officer for the Yarra League as well as coach of coach of its U14 representative side.
“He and his dad Dave turned up at one of our training sessions and said he wanted to play.
“We had two teams training on the night he came down and when he walked out, everyone just stopped.
“He was just 13 but already close to 190cm and he was sensational.
“His athleticism was extraordinary but he was also very natural with a football. I ended up playing him as a wingman/on baller where he won the Yarra League best-and-fairest.”
Mezgec said it soon became apparent that football was not Simmons’ No.1 love.
“By U14s he was starting to veer towards basketball as his pathway even though his mum Julie was keen on him playing football. They were good family friends with Leigh Montagna’s family,” Mezgec recalled.
“I have no doubt that had he stuck with footy, he’d not only be playing AFL but would be a star. He would also be the same humble kid he was with us, someone who was always more about the team than himself which came from his parents Dave and Julie, who are beautiful people.
“They didn’t miss a game even though they didn’t know a thing about the code. They now live in Philadelphia but three weeks ago I bumped into Dave in Sorrento where they have a holiday home. They are coming back for a holiday in January.”
Beverley Hills has nurtured a number of AFL stars such as Mark Browning, Marc Murphy and Paul Roos.
Rapid rise to the top: Ben Simmons playing for Beverley Hills Junior Football Club in Melbourne’s east and driving to the hoop for Philadelphia 76ers against Houston. Picture: AP