Brian Goorjian wanted to make one thing crystal clear when it came to the Australian Boomers' approach to re-incorporate Ben Simmons into the program.
"This is very important," the Boomers' head coach told ESPN.
"In my dealings with Ben, it's always been: I'm not recruiting you. It's important for the country [to know], we're not going, 'please, Ben, please, we don't have anything if you don't play'. We're not like that at all."
It's a sentiment that's considered important for two primary reasons. The first is that national sports teams carry an elevated level of prestige within the Australian sporting conscience -- relative to most other countries -- so the optics of treating any one player as being bigger than the team doesn't bode well with the country's values, broadly speaking.
The other is that the Australian senior men's basketball team is an extremely tough one to make these days; being an NBA player doesn't guarantee your selection, so there's a level of investment the athletes are expected to do, both on and off the court, in order to secure their consideration.
Simmons hasn't suited up for the Boomers since 2013, when he played in a FIBA Oceania Championship game against New Zealand. He subsequently missed out on selection going into the 2014 World Cup, a decision Goorjian feels led to resentment from Simmons toward Basketball Australia.
Since then, the 27-year-old has flirted with the prospect of playing for the Boomers on multiple occasions. He committed to playing at the 2016 Rio Olympics, the 2019 FIBA World Cup, and the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, and expressed his desire to take part in the 2023 FIBA World Cup, which takes place across three Asian countries from Aug. 25 to Sept. 10, but didn't follow through with any of them.
Goorjian continues to welcome Simmons into the Boomers -- while being adamant it's not a recruitment effort from the program -- and feels as though there's effectively an equal level of mutual benefit.
"It's like, you're fantastic, and you're a great player and the country loves you, and the country wants you in green and gold, and our team does," Goorjian said.
"But, in turn, this is really good for you. Because you get to walk through these doors and drop everything behind and be you, and play with your mates in a great culture. I look at it that way, that this is gonna be a really good opportunity for him, and that I and the guys on the team, we care about him. We want him to have a great career.
"You need this.
"And, in turn, if you're Ben Simmons, and if you play like Ben Simmons on this team, with that culture, you're gonna take us to somewhere the team's never been. That's my goal in all of this."
Goorjian was confident that, when he was appointed as head coach of the Boomers in 2020, his rapport with Simmons and his family would help toward having the 6'10 forward suit up for Australia again.
Goorjian's brother, Kevin, coached Simmons at Box Hill Senior Secondary College and was invited to attend the 2016 NBA Draft as a guest of the eventual No. 1 overall pick.
"I thought I had a good background," Goorjian said. "From the point that I've been involved with this, I think it's been disappointing he hasn't put the uniform on yet. I thought, when I first [came on], he's gonna play. I'm gonna get him. This rapport's gonna be good."
Some of the circumstances within Simmons' NBA career have gotten in the way, though. There was a volatile split with the Philadelphia 76ers that saw him request a trade and sit out an entire season, a back ailment that required surgery and delayed his comeback as a member of the Brooklyn Nets, and multiple injury setbacks -- primarily a nerve impingement in his back -- that eventually led to his 2022-23 season being shut down.
A three-time All-Star and member of an All-NBA Third Team, Simmons entered the 2023 off-season coming off a second straight disappointing season, with his priority to return to being the player he once was. He initially signalled his desire to be part of the Boomers' 2023 FIBA World Cup campaign, with the proviso that his rehab was complete, but ultimately chose to back out and the Boomers moved forward, like they have for almost a decade.
Now, Simmons is ostensibly healthy. Assuming he completes most of the upcoming NBA season without any setbacks, the Paris Olympics poses the most likely scenario for him to finally make his Boomers reunion.
"I truly hope, for Ben, that he ends up deciding it's something he wanted to do and be part of," Luc Longley, a three-time Olympian with the Boomers, told ESPN.
"I've done a lot of things, but playing for the Boomers is right up there at the top of them. I wouldn't trade one of my rings -- I've said I would at one stage, stupidly -- but, geez, I'd love to have a medal sitting alongside them.
The role of lead guard for the Boomers, once Simmons' for the taking, has been warrantably handed to Josh Giddey, but there are countless ways to incorporate the versatile forward so plugging him into the group from a playing perspective wouldn't be difficult. And while Goorjian understands the value having more talent on his roster could bring, he doesn't plan to compromise the program's values, because he recognises the Boomers are in a healthy place, whether Simmons is involved or not.
"The underlying side is, you always kind of have this thing in your pocket," Goorjian said, motioning toward his pocket. "You have a game plan, and it's like plan B. You've got this sitting in here, and you just go, I'd love to pull this out of my pocket; bring this out for a World Cup, or bring this out for an Olympics.
"In the same breath, what is phenomenal about Australian basketball right now is, if he doesn't play, and if it doesn't work, we're still on the same path.
"We're still going for that gold, and we have the ability, long term, to get that done."