BE­FORE BEN COULD JUMP

The Sunday Times - - SPORT - JON AN­DER­SON

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

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