NEW YORK (REUTERS) - Versatile Australian forward Ben Simmons is set to get to work in revitalising the Philadelphia 76ers after the team picked him first overall in the National Basketball Association draft.
"I've been looking forward to this day for a while, so I'm glad I've made history, not only for myself but my family and Australian basketball," Simmons told reporters after his selection on Thursday night (June 23).
The 19-year-old joins a Philadelphia team that has stocked up on high draft picks in recent years but still toiled in the basement of the league, leading to a management shakeup this past season.
Asked about what would be required to lead the 76ers back to the playoffs, Simmons said: "A lot of work every day. I think overall it's just one of those things that takes time."
For Simmons, whose father moved to Australia to play professional basketball, his selection at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn occurred not far from where his father grew up in the borough of the Bronx.
"It honestly feels like all this pressure just has hopped off me," Simmons, long viewed as a top prospect, said of hearing his name called.
Eight Australians were on opening night rosters in the NBA last season, but Simmons was particularly excited about squaring off against fellow countryman Dante Exum, a guard for the Utah Jazz.
"We've had rivalries since we were like seven years old," Simmons said. "It's kind of weird seeing that relationship change from playing in the backyard to now we're going to be playing in the NBA."
He is viewed as a player who can both grab rebounds and lead a team like a point guard. Simmons averaged 19 points a game, along with nearly 12 rebounds and five assists in his lone year at Louisiana State University.
Simmons is the second LSU player to be chosen with the top overall pick in the draft, after Shaquille O'Neal was selected No. 1 by the Orlando Magic in 1992.
For the 76ers, it was the first time they had held the top pick since 1996, when they drafted Allen Iverson, the dynamic, feisty point guard.
"A lot of people don't know that I actually had a poster of 'AI' when I was young in my room," Simmons said. "He was one of those players who fought every day."