Ford: Simmons will be in spotlight for a while

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Sixers first pick Ben Simmons greets the media.

NEW YORK - The future arrived wearing a dark suit, white shirt, and pocket square, a man dressed for business among a room full of other young men who dressed for the prom.

The only allowance Ben Simmons made to style as he ascended the stage on Thursday night was a squarely knotted tie the color of solid gold. That's an understandable, if understated, choice for the first pick in the NBA draft. Simmons, selected by the 76ers, went from amateur status to a professional contract that will pay him between $5 million and $6 million in his rookie year alone.

Something comes along with the fame and the money and the memory of being the first one to shake hands with the commissioner on draft night.

Expectations.

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Some young players handle that pressure well and some don't. Unfortunately, it is impossible to know which category fits Simmons. The spotlight narrows into a laser for top picks, and Thursday night the Sixers didn't do anything to take attention away from the 19-year-old.

All the rumors of moving up to get another pick among the first eight picks in the draft turned out to be just that. The Sixers reportedly tried to make a deal with multiple teams, but the picks fell every five minutes and they fell to the teams that held them. Guards Kris Dunn, Buddy Hield, and Jamal Murray were taken in succession with the fifth, sixth, and seventh picks. The Boston Celtics, supposedly the most likely trade partner, kept the third pick and used it to grab swingman Jaylen Brown.

So, what was predicted to be anticlimax turned into the only real show of the night. Simmons put a blue-and-red cap on his head and became just the third player taken at the top of the draft by the Sixers, and the first since Allen Iverson exactly 20 years ago.

"I actually had a poster of A.I. when I was young in my room. It was a big diamond-cut poster of him with the braids," Simmons said. "I remember I used to have the corn rows when I was younger."

That's about where the comparison, if there was any, ends. Simmons is nearly a foot taller and 80 pounds heavier than Iverson. He handles the ball well for a big man, passes well, and is expected to operate as a playmaker near the basket in the NBA, a blend of power and grace.

"They know I can play the point forward position and I'm comfortable bringing the ball up, so I think that's one of those things we'll talk about and discuss," Simmons said.

He met with general manager Bryan Colangelo and coach Brett Brown twice in the last week, so much of that discussion has already taken place. The Sixers chose Simmons over Brandon Ingram, who went second to the Lakers, in what was seen as a binary choice between the two truly elite players in the draft.

"My legs were shaking when I was on stage," Simmons said. "I've wanted [to be in the NBA] since I was 5, 6, 7, and I've finally accomplished that."

Now comes the hard part. In his one (not so successful) season at LSU, Simmons' drive and focus came under fire. His willingness to work through rough stretches and rough games was questioned. He joins a team that has only one direction it can go, but improvement isn't going to happen overnight.

If the Sixers do hold on to both Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor - and draft night usually provides the best opportunity to deal - then Brown will have an interesting challenge figuring out a workable frontcourt. And that's not even counting the anticipated arrival of Joel Embiid.

Those could be considered good problems to have, but Simmons won't have to merely contend with losing, but with competing for minutes among his own teammates.

"Everything is not going to be perfect," Simmons said, referring back to his season at LSU. "You've got to learn to fight through adversity, the struggles, or whatever happens during the season, but you've got to play through it, keep working, and things change."

Things changed for Ben Simmons on Thursday night. Adam Silver came out from his backstage hiding place and called his name. At a table in the front of the room - amid about 20 other tables around which players and their families and their new best friends, their agents, sat waiting to hear their own names - Simmons stood up and moved toward the steps to the stage. They all wanted to be him.

The difficult part is making sure that's still true in a couple of years.

bford@phillynews.com

@bobfordsports