Australia Day at NBA Draft delivers Ben Simmons, Thon Maker shock


There was a roar at Barclays Center when Ben Simmons was selected first overall by the Philadelphia 76ers.

And nine picks later, Barclays was buzzing when another Australian product, Thon Maker, was surprisingly taken by the Milwaukee Bucks with the 10th overall pick.

Two Australians started and capped off the top 10 picks in the NBA Draft on Thursday night in Brooklyn. There was no surprise at all when the Sixers tabbed Simmons first over Duke's Brandon Ingram, who went to the Los Angeles Lakers with the second pick.

As expected, Simmons becomes the second Australian to be taken first overall after Andrew Bogut in 2005. He joins Shaquille O'Neal (1992) as the second top pick out of LSU.

"It's a weight off my chest," Simmons said shortly after being the first top overall pick for Philadelphia since Allen Iverson was taken number one in 1996. "I've been looking forward to this day for a while, so I'm glad I've made history, not only for myself but my family and Australian basketball."

While there was little suspense at No. 1, the Maker selection might be the most surprising of the Draft.

Maker's age had reportedly been in question by some entering the draft but the Bucks opted to add the 7-1, 216-pound [216cm, 98kg] power forward. Milwaukee already is one of the youngest teams in the NBA with Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker as the two franchise players. "When I walked past most of the guys in the green room, some of the guys looked at me sideways," Maker said when asked of the reaction by some of his peers who were still waiting to be drafted when Maker's name was called.

"Some of the guys I already knew from high school, so we were like friends. So they were happy and some guys gave me dap.

"And other guys were like, it should be them. I don't know, if I were in that situation, I would have been like, 'Congrats.' You know, you've made a step. Now go make a name for yourself."

Maker denied rumors about him possibly being older.

"It did get to me in terms of me hearing about it," Maker said. "But it didn't get to me personally because if it were true, I'd probably be like sideways about it, but it's not true, so I'm comfortable. I'm not pissed off or -- oh, I'm not angry or anything."

Maker laughed and added, "I've got to learn what I can say and what I can't say now."

While Simmons just had his first Philly cheesesteak only recently, he needs no introduction to his new head coach. Sixers coach Brett Brown coached Simmons' father in Australia, where he coached the men's national team and was also head coach of the Sydney Kings of the Australian National Basketball League.

Simmons now will try to help previous lottery picks like Jahlil Okafor, Joel Embiid and Nerlens Noel turn around a franchise that has lost a total of 199 games over the past three seasons.

He also is looking forward to one day matching up against other Australians in the pros like Utah's Dante Exum.

"I'm definitely going at him when we play," Simmons said. "We've had rivalries since we were like seven-years-old. It's kind of weird seeing that relationship change from playing in the backyard to now we're going to be playing in the NBA."

With stops in Uganda, Australia, Louisiana, Virginia and Canada, Maker has taken a very long route to the NBA despite not going to college or playing overseas and using a loophole to enter the draft.

"People usually say nowadays that playing hard is the new skill, or having a motor is a new skill," Maker said. "For me it was just always having that work ethic and just continuing to work hard. My skills have always been just work on them, and you never know what you're going to use them in the game."

"Things like ball handling because people don't expect me to be handling the ball, but look at (Draymond) Green at the (power forward) position with the Warriors. He's their new guy bringing the ball up, so it takes the pressure off the other guys because you see the 4 sucked into the paint now, and he's bringing the ball up... So I feel like I need to work on that a little bit more, and shooting the ball consistently."