- David Ching, ESPN Staff Writer
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- If that whole being the top basketball recruit in the country thing doesn’t work out for LSU freshman Ben Simmons, another Tigers coach, Les Miles, said Simmons would be welcome to try his hand at football.
Miles joked -- we think -- after Thursday’s preseason practice that the 6-foot-9 Simmons would make a dangerous goal-line receiver.
“If he’s interested in taking some snaps for us, he could come over, very honestly, and I could give him a goal-line position where I would throw it to him,” Miles said. “All he’s got to prove to me is one thing -- that he can catch.
“If he can catch, which certainly we would all predict in this room that he could, he will set the NCAA record for touchdowns. We’ll just stand him over there and when three guys are on him, we’ll run it. When two guys are on him, we’re throwing him the ball.”
This scenario is extremely hypothetical, of course. LSU already had built a basketball season-ticket campaign around Simmons before he even arrived on campus, and optimism is as high around Tigers hoops as it has been in years. ESPN draft analyst Chad Ford lists Simmons as his No. 1 prospect for the 2016 NBA draft and wrote that “comparisons of him being a poor man’s LeBron James or Magic Johnson aren’t far off.”
In other words, the chances of Simmons ever putting on shoulder pads and the Tigers’ famed purple-and-gold football uniform are between slim and none. Although Miles said he was “dead serious” about the idea, everyone knows it would be the longest of long shots.
Even if it will never happen with Simmons, could it with someone whose hoops future isn’t so secure? It’s a ridiculous notion with this player, but maybe the idea isn’t -- not with NFL passing games making use of tight ends who once played college basketball such as Tony Gonzalez, Antonio Gates, Jimmy Graham, Julius Thomas and Jordan Cameron.
Would it be a useful extension of that college hoops-to-pro tight end concept to see if a rangy power forward with soft hands could become a goal-line weapon only? The average college defensive back is only about 6 feet tall. Tossing jump balls to an athletic guy with a height advantage of nearly a foot would be difficult to stop, right?
Miles seems to think it could work.
“I want you to know something, I asked [Eddie] Sutton when I was at Oklahoma State if he’d send me a guy over there,” Miles said of the Cowboys’ longtime basketball coach. “How about that? So all he’d have to do is give me anywhere between 6-9 and above and very athletic and ball skills, and I’m going to guarantee it. Why would we want to run when we could just throw it over there to that guy?”
It came in the form of a silly suggestion at the end of a news conference, but the college football world would be fascinated to see a coach such as Miles experiment with an idea like the one he proposes. In this age of increasing specialization in sports, thinking outside the box to find a competitive advantage can sometimes pay major dividends.
Just don’t expect to see it happen with Simmons at LSU. For one thing, he’s simply too good at his current sport. For another, LSU basketball coach Johnny Jones likely would never speak to Miles again if he tried to steal his prized recruit for even one snap.
“I think Johnny would have a fit,” Miles chuckled.