By Frank Pingue
(Reuters) - Ben Simmons is only three games into his much-anticipated NBA debut season but the Australian point guard has been so good that he is already drawing comparisons to some of the game's greatest players.
The 21-year-old rookie has been the lone bright spot in a slow start for a Philadelphia 76ers team that have opened the 2017-18 NBA season with three consecutive losses.
Simmons has already shown an ability to score, rebound and dish out balls so effortlessly that he has been compared to the likes of three-times NBA champion LeBron James and Hall of Famer Michael Jordan.
But Simmons, who is only the second player in NBA history to record more than 10 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in his first three games on basketball's biggest stage, is not letting the outside noise get in the way of his goals.
"Honestly for me, I just play. I have a lot to prove just to myself where I can go. But I'm not worried about people trying to boost my head or anything like that," Simmons told a conference call.
"I try not to let people get in my head, say certain things or believe the hype. There's a lot of work to be put in. It's going to take time, but I believe in myself and my team mates."
The Melbourne-born standout was selected by Philadelphia with the first pick in the 2016 NBA Draft but his debut was abruptly put on hold when he rolled his right ankle during training camp. He was later ruled out for the entire season when tests showed his broken right foot had not fully healed.
When asked how tough it was to sit out a full season, Simmons said he was initially frustrated but then decided to use his time preparing in other ways.
"I had my moments where it was just hard for me walking in every day and knowing I wasn't going to step on the court," said Simmons. "But for me, I just tried to take advantage of not actually playing and just trying to learn as much as I could by watching the games, watching film and then obviously taking care of my body."
Simmons and the 76ers will play the Boston Celtics at The O2 in London on Jan. 11 for the NBA London Game 2018 but he longs for the day when he can play an NBA game in his home country.
"I definitely want the NBA to go out to Australia, and definitely the team I'm on, Philadelphia, I want them to go out there and play," said Simmons. "That would be amazing if we could do that. I think it will come. It's going to be a great time when it happens."
Until then, Simmons will continue working on living up to the hype that has been placed on his shoulders, focused solely on taking his game to another level.
"I just want to go up against the best and compete. That's what I've been wanting my whole life, to play the best players and be one of the best players," said Simmons.
"Now that I have that opportunity, I think as long as I put in the work, the sky's the limit."
(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto, editing by Pritha Sarkar)