Front and Centre Round 10: How the AFL lost Ben Simmons

Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Simmons the AFL star?

Ben Simmons, who is expected to be chosen by the Philadelphia 76ers as the NBA's No.1 draft pick next month, could so easily have been lost to Australian football, as 'Mr Basketball' Andrew Gaze revealed this week.

Gaze, the five-time Olympian, played for many seasons with Simmons' American father, Dave, at the Melbourne Tigers and took an interest in Ben's development as he grew from courtside toddler to robust teenager.

It seems enrolling in Auskick and playing kick-to-kick with his classmates at Box Hill Secondary College in Melbourne's east gave Simmons a taste for AFL, and a possible career in the big time.

"I can still remember being out at the Keilor Basketball Stadium - Dave (Simmons) was coaching Ben and I was coaching in a game afterwards. Dave's wife, Julie, was there watching on and I was just having a chat to her about Ben,'' Gaze told ESPN this week.

"He was only 12 or 13 (years old) at the time and playing in the under-14s for Keilor, and I remember asking Julie how Ben's basketball was going and saying it looked like he was coming along well.

"And she was telling me at the time that Ben had a real passion for AFL, and was doing well at the junior level. I remember thinking 'I hope we don't lose him to the AFL'.

"He was still very young at the time and, I guess like any kid growing up in Melbourne, enjoyed going to school and playing kick-to-kick and Auskick.

"I do recall the conversation because I was thinking 'oh gee, hopefully the AFL doesn't get their hands on him and he's going to go down that route'. Fortunately for him, Basketball Australia and everyone, that wasn't the case.''

The NBA Draft will be held on June 23.

Carey to miss Roos' reunion

North Melbourne is holding their 20-year premiership reunion on Friday July 1 but the club's captain in that historic Grand Final win, Wayne Carey, will be a no-show because of his Channel Seven commitments.

Almost all the players involved in the Kangas' third premiership, a hard-fought 43-point win over Sydney, will be at the gala ball, which will celebrate the 1996 team, induct new members into the Hall of Fame, and announce the 'Shinboner of the Era' for the 2005-2015 decade.

But the notable absentee will be the man who led the Roos on (and off) the field through the 1990s and was named the captain of the Kangaroos' Team of the Century. He will be co-hosting Seven's broadcast of the Port Adelaide-Richmond game at the Adelaide Oval that night instead.

Because of the unique circumstances surrounding Carey's departure from the Kangaroos in 2002 - he'd been having an affair with the wife of his vice-captain, Anthony Stevens, in case you missed the news - these reunions have always been fraught. Stevens has never forgiven Carey, which means functions end up with Carey in one corner, and Stevens in the other, and ne'er the twain shall meet.

Stevens is now working full-time at North in a marketing capacity and happens to be one of the organisers of the event and charged with getting all his former teammates along, adding a new layer of complexity to the situation.

Still, the club is hoping Carey will attend a players-only reunion the following day, when a less formal gathering has been organised at a local pub.

But the gala ball is expected to produce some good news. Word reaches us that Geoff Walsh (who was club chief executive in 2002 and recently returned to Arden St to become head of the football department) and former coach Denis Pagan (who turned down Walsh's revised contract offer in 2002 and headed to Carlton instead) will finally end their 14-year standoff.

Walsh is soon to turn 60, Pagan 68, and someone close to the situation said older, wiser heads will prevail, grudges will be put to one side and peace offerings made.

Unlucky Roo?

The folly - and hypocrisy - of leadership groups at AFL clubs disciplining errant teammates was again underlined this week.

Hawthorn's leadership group - and we use that term advisedly - was called into action last September when club captain Luke Hodge was pulled over after a boozy card night and recorded a blood-alcohol reading of 0.688.

Their decision was complicated slightly by the fact the Hawks were about to play a final in Perth against West Coast. And, of course, this was 'Hodgey', the lovable larrikin captain. So would they slug him with a one-match ban - or even two, as former goalkicking legend Jason Dunstall suggested at the time?

No, it turns out expedience won the day - as if we should be surprised by that - and Hodge was handed a $5000 fine and a ban of precisely zero matches.

The Hawks' leadership group was in the news again this week when wingman Bradley Hill was charged with assault on Tuesday following an incident at a suburban nightclub in January. (The 22-year-old was charged after another man was left with minor facial injuries - reportedly as the result of a glassing - in the altercation which took place at 12.30am).

The leadership group sat in judgment on Hill's case on Tuesday and decided to apply (wait for it) no sanction to their teammate, saying any penalty would now be decided by the judicial system.

Compare and contrast those two situations with that involving North Melbourne's Kayne Turner, 20, who blew 0.133 when pulled over by a booze bus in the early hours of Sunday morning.

As well as losing his licence and copping a hefty fine, Turner, of course, had to confront the Roos' leadership group on Monday, led by skipper Andrew Swallow.

They imposed a four-match ban on the small forward for breaking team rules - but this sanction was to start after he had recovered from a hamstring injury. So effectively, Turner won't play again for at least seven weeks.

Turner must be rueing the fact that a) he wasn't a senior player at the Roos or b) he didn't get caught on the eve of the finals. Then, given the very rubbery morals on show at some football clubs, he might have stood some chance of being handed the Luke Hodge limp lettuce-leaf treatment.

AFL, Pies fine with Cox treatment

Mason Cox will probably take it as a compliment, but the AFL had no issues with Geelong players ganging up on him in a schoolyard-style incident at the start of the Collingwood-Geelong game last weekend.

The incident included at least two Geelong players going at Cox, the American who has made such an impact, and one grasping at his left hand. Remember, Cox's hand had been accidentally stood on the week before.

Surprisingly, since the AFL has recently shown annoyance at any tampering with injured players, the league cleared Geelong after football operations staff viewed the tape.

Melbourne's Tomas Bugg was fined $1000 by the match review panel earlier this season for pushing Jack Riewoldt while he was receiving treatment for an injury in the game against Richmond. There have been similar incidents involving St Kilda's Leigh Montagna in 2011 (suspended for pushing an injured Ed Curnow of Carlton) and in 2005 when Lions Mal Michael and Chris Scott rounded on an injured Nick Riewoldt.

In the circumstances, Geelong's Jed Bews in particular appears to have been lucky, but an AFL spokesman said the review found no case to answer.

"It was the view here there wasn't anything sustained, in that he was bumped into at the start of the match with the couple of players, and then it ceased basically immediately when the game began,'' the spokesman said.

Jason Dunstall, speaking on Fox Sports this week, was less charitable, noting that Collingwood's seven-goal first quarter set up the win over the Cats.

"It's one thing to go out and do this and put on this big bold brave in your face front, it's another to back it up when the ball is bounced. They didn't do that,'' said Dunstable.

Collingwood was happy that Cox responded in a positive way, ultimately kicking the winning goal.

"No drama from our end,'' said a club spokesman. "Mason stood up to it and might have demonstrated to the rest of the competition that a bit of extra attention isn't going to faze him.''

Red cards get red carded

Gil McLachlan's quick dismissal of the notion of red cards or a send-off rule in AFL football was a little surprising this week. The debate bobs up every time there is a nasty incident in a game - such as last weekend's Tom Jonas-Andrew Gaff clash - and there are good arguments for the introduction of send-offs.

For instance, how can it be right that in the case of the Barry Hall-Brent Staker incident in 2008 at Homebush, when Staker was helped off after being struck in an off-the-ball incident, and Hall remained in the game for Sydney?

It is for that level of incident that a send-off would be valuable, as has been shown in other sports.

It is hard to think of a single incident since the Hall swipe that would warrant a dismissal.

Chris Judd's 'chicken wing' tackle on Leigh Adams in 2012 caused revulsion in football circles, just as Brian Lake's choke hold on Drew Petrie at the MCG in 2014 did. It's true that in AFL circles, these really bad incidents that are not part of the game are rare.

But the send-off makes sense, at least as a final option in dramatic circumstances.

RANDOM STAT (1): 34,532: The average crowd at AFL games this season, up 7.1 percent on home and away crowds in 2015.

RANDOM STAT (2) 108.6: Melbourne's average score in 2016. It represents a 52 percent increase on the 2015 figure of 71.5 points per game.

RANDOM STAT (3) 36: The number of kicks picked up by the Giants' Heath Shaw last week, the most by any player in the past 12,727 days (since Peter Featherby in Round 16, 1981).

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "That awkward moment when you have to go to an Auskick clinic and teach kids how to play footy who have played longer than you.'' - Collingwood's resident Texan, Mason Cox, shows his sense of humour on Twitter